Even though they’re in the minority, Senate Democrats are flexing their muscles -- and stopping, at least for now, the new Republican majority's $39.7 billion budget for the Department of Homeland Security.
At issue? President Barack Obama’s executive order halting deportations for up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. The Republicans want to cut funding for the executive order; the Democrats don't.
On Tuesday and again on Wednesday, all 44 of the Senate’s Democrats, joined by two independents and one Republican, united to block consideration of the funding measure. The department's money is expected to run out at the end of the month.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told reporters in a conference call that Republicans should offer a clean funding bill for Homeland Security.
“The point is we should not take a funding bill, for a vital part of government, and try to put political riders on it,” she continued. “And maybe they would have an excuse to do this if this was the old Congress, when they weren’t in charge, but they’re in charge now.”
Republicans set the stage for this fight over the president’s executive order last December. At the GOP's insistence, the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” spending plan kept Homeland Security on a continuing resolution. The rest of the government is funded through the end of the fiscal year in September. Homeland Security runs out of money Feb. 27, meaning that without a compromise or some other action to break the deadlock, the department could be forced to shut down all but emergency functions.
McCaskill and other Senate Democrats say that the Republicans are holding Homeland Security funding hostage and potentially putting the country at risk to terrorist attacks.
“Let’s get the clean bill on Homeland Security passed, because of what it means to our country, especially with the fight against ISIS and then let’s go and debate immigration policy,” said McCaskill.
Republicans don’t appear to be ready to blink.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told Missouri reporters in a conference call Wednesday morning the Democrats “can’t run away and hide from this debate. We all know there has to be funding for this department.”
Instead of blocking the bill, Blunt suggested that Senate Democrats offer an amendment to the measure. He noted that the new Republican leadership has allowed more votes on amendments so far this new Congress than in several previous sessions.
In his call with reporters, Blunt said, that the Democrat’s decision to block debate on the funding bill was being “reported all over the country today as Democrats choosing not to move forward with the bill that would fund Homeland Security.”
When asked about linking funding for Homeland Security to the president’s executive order on immigration, Blunt said, “This is the department that will execute a policy that I don’t agree with.”
McCaskill sent out an email Wednesday afternoon asking supporters to call “on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring a clean funding bill to a vote and avert a Homeland Security shutdown over immigration.”