Immigration Amendments Set Stage For Another Eleventh Hour Spending Showdown

Two major political battles are already set to take place between Congress and the White House over the next few weeks; one over the Keystone XL pipeline and the other over immigration. On Wednesday, January 14, the U.S. House approved a bill to fund the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until September, a bill that would also block funding President Obama needs to carry out his executive orders on immigration and deferred deportations.

The 236-191 vote fell mostly along partisan lines though 10 Republicans voted against the bill and two Democrats voted in favor of it. If the bill passes the Senate, it is expected to be vetoed by the president, not only because it includes an amendment that would cut off funding for Obama’s most recent executive order on immigration, but includes another amendment that would halt the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). The program exempts some children from deportation who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

The latter amendment was the most heavily contested addition to the DHS funding bill. The DACA amendment passed with a vote of 218-209 — 26 Republicans defected. Agencies that would receive funding from the DHS spending bill include Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Secret Service

Looking at the numbers, it is likely that even if the bill passes the Senate the Republican leadership will not have the votes to override a veto. This is a fact not overlooked by Republicans in both chambers, which is why some may be looking for a victory somewhere else.

If Congress does not fund the DHS by February 27, the department will shutdown. There are many people who would not be heartbroken to see this happen, but scoring some points on national security in the wake of terrorist activity in Paris may be the end game for some Republicans in the Senate.

The U.S. House passed the bill with plenty of time for the Senate to consider and vote on it, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says the bill will not be taken up until February.

Eleventh hour showdowns on spending when both chambers are given plenty of time to pass legislation became a hallmark of the 113th Congress when Democrats controlled the Senate and Republicans controlled the House. Congress was in a continuous state of gridlock and the threat of a government shutdown was used by both parties to gain political leverage. The government shut down in 2013 for 16 days and almost shut down again in 2014.

Many hoped that a Congress controlled by a single party would stop playing these political games, but increased partisanship on both sides of the aisle has only gotten stronger. Neither chamber would have the votes needed to override a presidential veto, but neither party wants to appear weak on national security ahead of a presidential election and after the attacks in Paris.

Public opinion on the Department of Homeland Security and its necessity varies, but it continues to be a department some lawmakers use for political leverage. If the president vetoes the spending bill (which he likely will), Republicans may say he is putting his personal immigration agenda ahead of national security when threats have increased. If Republicans gamble DHS funding to the eleventh hour, Democrats in Congress and the White House may accuse them of playing political games at the expense of the nation’s security.

The actors in this political drama may have changed a bit, but the script remains the same.