Senate Democrats on Tuesday sank a Republican plan to use a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill to block President Barack Obama’s immigration actions, setting up a showdown over the agency's funding.
More than 40 Democrats voted against the DHS measure in a procedural vote, denying it the 60 votes it needed to move to final passage. Senate Democrats have demanded a clean DHS funding bill that strips out the immigration restrictions passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives last month.
Democrats say they are happy to provide some $40 billion in funds for the department as well as debate immigration but want the two issues to be dealt with separately.
But Senate Republicans want a bill passed that would tie DHS funding to changes on immigration. The Senate's top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, indicated that he would order a second vote in the days ahead.
Current spending authority for the DHS — which spearheads domestic counterterrorism efforts and secures U.S. borders, airports and coastal waters — will expire on Feb. 27.
“I think we can have a reasonable debate about immigration,” Obama said while announcing his proposed annual budget on Monday. “But don’t jeopardize our national security over this disagreement.”
Earlier, House Speaker John Boehner declined to say how Republicans would proceed if the plan stalled in the Senate.
"The goal here is not to run DHS out of money. The goal is to stop the president's overreach," Boehner told a news briefing.
Republicans were divided on their response. Some, including Rep. John Carter of Texas, who chairs the House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee, said they would prefer a clean DHS bill to leaving the agency short of funds.
But conservative Raul Labrador of Idaho said it was important to continue the fight against Obama on immigration, even if it means a lapse in DHS funds. He said Obama would take the blame, not Republicans.
"If the president's willing to do that, that would be on the president," Labrador said.
While much of the DHS' security functions have been deemed essential and would continue to operate if funding lapsed, the agency has said it would be forced to furlough about 30,000 employees, or 15 percent of its staff.
Al Jazeera and wire services