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Homeland Security funding deal elusive as new deadline nears

March 2, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — Speaker John Boehner left open the possibility Monday that the House might pass long-term funding for the Homeland Security Department without immigration provisions attached, as Republican options dwindled for avoiding a capitulation to the White House and Democrats.

Passage of the stand-alone spending bill would seal the failure of a Republican strategy designed to make Homeland Security funding contingent on concessions from President Barack Obama. The president has issued a pair of directives since 2012 that lifted the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living in the country illegally, steps that Republicans say exceeded his constitutional authority.

The Homeland Security Department, which has major anti-terrorism duties, is also responsible for border control.

A funding bill for the agency has produced partisan gridlock in the first several weeks of the new Congress, even though Republicans gained control of the Senate last fall and won more seats in the House than at any time in 70 years.

Democratic unity blocked passage in the Senate of House-passed legislation with the immigration provisions. By late last week, a split in House Republican ranks brought the department to the brink of a partial shutdown. That was averted when Congress approved a one-week funding bill that Obama signed into law only moments before a midnight Friday deadline.

If Congress fails to act before the new deadline, most of the department’s employees who are considered essential would have to work without pay until lawmakers resolve the situation. The department, which has major anti-terrorism responsibilities, also oversees U.S. borders.

House Republican leaders on Sunday challenged Democrats to begin negotiations on funding for Homeland Security and Obama’s unilateral actions on immigration. But they acknowledged that no common ground had been found with the Democrats.

“We want to get a conference with the Senate. Now, they’ve made clear that they don’t want to go to conference. But they’re going to have a vote. If they vote, in fact, not to get a conference, this bill may be coming back to the House,” Boehner said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

A spokesman for Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday there will be no negotiations with the House over Homeland Security funding and immigration. Senate Democrats are expected to block any plans for formal talks in Monday night’s vote.

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Associated Press writers Kimberly Hefling, Donna Cassata and Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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