WASHINGTON - Feuding US lawmakers narrowly avoided a Department of Homeland Security shutdown Friday at the 11th hour, but funded the agency only until March 6, forcing Congress to revisit the issue next week.
House and Senate members scrambled to prevent the premier agency securing the United States against terror threats from running out of money at midnight, as DHS became a battleground for lawmakers clashing over President Barack Obama's controversial immigration reforms.
The president signed the temporary measure into law shortly before midnight, despite his preference for full DHS funding through the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
Earlier attempts to secure comprehensive funding failed spectacularly Friday, with conservative Republicans balking because amendments they had inserted to repeal Obama's immigration executive orders had been stripped out.
With the clock ticking, the House of Representatives passed the seven-day measure 357 to 60, with just two hours to spare. The Senate approved it earlier by voice vote.
Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi suggested congressional leaders agreed to a deal that would see Democrats help get the one-week stopgap over the finish line, in return for a vote next week on full funding.
"Your vote tonight will assure that we will vote for full funding next week," Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues.
If Congress did not pass legislation that allows money to flow, 30,000 DHS employees would be furloughed, while some 200,000 agency staff, including border agents, airport screeners and Secret Service agents would be ordered to work without pay.
"It's the 11th hour, and we must act" to fund the agency that defends "our home turf," Republican Harold Rogers, the top House appropriator, told his colleagues.
The Senate approved a "clean" DHS funding bill Friday free of controversial amendments sought by House Republicans to block Obama's immigration executive orders.
But House Speaker John Boehner, under pressure from his party's right wing, refused to put the measure to a vote.
'Bite the bullet'
Then, in one of the harshest rebukes of Boehner's four-year tenure as speaker, more than 50 House conservatives joined Democrats in rejecting a three-week extension.
Republican leaders kept that 15-minute vote open for nearly an hour as they sought to corral support, but conservatives were not budging.
They wanted Boehner and others to stand firm by demanding the amendments repealing the immigration plan, which would provide deportation relief for millions of illegal immigrants, be kept in the DHS funding measure.
Many have sought to use Congress's power of the purse to rein in what they see as Obama's executive overreach.
"Please. I know party divisions run deep, but stand with us for the Constitution," Republican Louie Gohmert pleaded to his House colleagues.
But Pelosi shot back that it was time for Republicans to "grow up, bite the bullet," and agree to responsibly debate immigration at a different time.
The near-fiasco over DHS funding marked a blow to the Republican leaders who control both chambers of Congress and who pledged when they took over in January to run Capitol Hill more efficiently.
"The Republican Congress has shown that it simply cannot govern," top Senate Democrat Harry Reid said.
"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."