Congress OKs 1-week Homeland Security budget extension

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Congress passed a one-week extension of funding late Friday night just hours before a midnight deadline to avert a partial shutdown of the Homeland Security Department.

The 357-60 vote came hours after the House had rejected a three-week extension in an embarrassing blow to the House Republican leadership. Democrats reversed course and agreed to support a one-week extension after aides said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had agreed to a vote next week on a bill to fund the 230,000-employee, $40 billion department. His office denied that.

The near shutdown came as House conservatives have fought to include legislative language to bar President Barack Obama's immigration orders that would allow for millions of illegal immigrants to get work permits. The issue has consumed Congress for weeks — and the one-week funding bill means Congress will need to address the issue again next week.

Obama is expected to sign the legislation before midnight.

Earlier Friday, the House voted 224-203 against a three-week extension — with 52 Republicans including west Michigan's Rep. Justin Amash voting against the extension and 12 Democrats voting in favor. None of Michigan's five House Democrats voted for the extension bill.

In the bill to approve funding, only Amash voted against the one-week extension.

Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said Republicans had to act.

"Our families' safety must always remain a top priority, which is why I have continuously voted to fund the Department of Homeland Security. It's disappointing that Senate Democrats have spent the last several weeks focused on gridlock instead of working with Republicans to get the job done — but with growing threats around the world, we simply cannot afford to do nothing," he said.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said it was "unacceptable to shut down the Department of Homeland Security for hours, let alone days. I voted for the authorization to keep the department open for one week because it was the only option available, and as a member of Congress, keeping Americans safe is my first responsibility. There is no room for politics in national security, and it is completely unacceptable that some Republicans in the House of Representatives are treating our security like a political football."

Rep. David Trott, R-Birmingham, said he hopes the one-week extension allows Obama and Congress to find bipartisan agreement.

"While a short-term extension of Homeland Security funding is not ideal, this action will allow the House and Senate the opportunity to hash out their differences in front of the nation and with more input from the American people," he said.

Earlier in the day, the Senate voted 68-31 to approve the agency's budget for the rest of the year. Both of Michigan's senators voted in favor of the extension.

Senate Republicans had given up efforts to block Obama's executive orders last year that would allow millions of illegal immigrants to obtain work permits and instead moved to approve a $40 billion budget bill to fund the agency through the end of the year.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, countered that Republicans have shown they can't govern.

"Two months into the Republican Congress, we are already staring a Homeland Security shutdown square in the face, even as terrorists around the world threaten to strike America," Reid said. "This is about our country: How many more times will Republicans send us hurtling towards a completely avoidable cliff?"

Democrats said Republicans were playing politics with border security for the agency that includes the Secret Service, Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said the extension of the short-term funding will hurt Michigan.

"We have Coast Guard equipment that's on hold, we have emergency responder communications equipment — a whole list of things — nuclear detection equipment on hold," Stabenow said. "It is effectively a first-responder shutdown."

But Democrats voted to block efforts by House Republicans to open formal negotiations on a long-term deal.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, decried the "political gamesmanship" that has brought the agency to a brink of shutdown. She and other Democrats said the state may not get critical equipment funded with Homeland Security grants without a permanent budget.

"The longer we continue to play games, the greater the consequences," Dingell said. "The safety of all American families is on the line. There is no room for politics in national security. I can't believe we're down to this point."

Michigan received $21.2 million in 2013 and $22 million in 2014 for emergency management and homeland security grants, according to the Michigan State Police's Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division.

Canton Township received $339,000 in funding last year to replace 10 cardiac monitors in ambulances as well as a part of a regional grant to finance new devices that help firefighters escape crumbling burning structures, said Joshua Meier, the township's fire chief. The township has applied for new grants that would replace substandard breathing apparatuses and provide regional training to help coordinate firefighting in Wayne County, he said — requests that are on hold until Congress approved permanent funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

"It's something that every fire agency across America is concerned about," Meier said Friday. "As municipal budgets shrink and funding gets tighter, it makes it more difficult for us to upgrade equipment to allow our firefighters to operate more efficiently and safely."

Michigan has about 4,600 Homeland Security employees, Dingell said. She said some Transportation Security Administration employees are bringing home $400 a week, arguing that forcing federal employees to work without pay isn't right.

Vaughn Glenn, a TSA Agent at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, said on a conference call with reporters that employees shouldn't be worried about paying bills. He said a lot of single parents work as TSA agents and struggle to make ends meet. He noted TSA employees have to pay $45 a month to park at the Detroit Metro Airport and many drive a long way to get to Romulus.

Glenn noted suspected terrorists have been arrested trying to leave the country recently at U.S. airports.

"We have to be focused on what we are doing," Glenn said. "The threat is real." It's hard to "maintain 100 percent focus" when TSA agents know they might not get paid.

Other TSA employees, such as lost and found personnel and many administrative TSA employees, would not keep working in the event of a partial shutdown.

Some TSA agents from the checkpoints might be forced to work in those other jobs temporarily — meaning that airports could see longer lines and fewer checkpoints open, Glenn said. "It is also going to impact the passengers, too," he said.