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Congress passes one-week extension of funding for Homeland Security

WASHINGTON – Congress passed a one-week stopgap funding measure for the Department of Homeland Security late Friday, ending a day of Republican infighting on Capitol Hill and saving nearly 1,800 government employees in Western New York – and thousands more nationwide – from either a furlough or a temporary future of work without pay.

A dramatic day in Congress essentially ended when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urged her troops to support the one-week funding measure, which then passed the House in a 357-60 vote. All three of Western New York’s House members voted for the measure.

Only hours earlier, the Democratic minority joined with 52 of the most conservative Republicans in the House to defeat a three-week funding bill for the department.

But then, after the Senate passed the one-week measure, Pelosi sent a note to her Democratic colleagues, saying they should vote for it because it will ensure consideration next week of a bill fully funding the agency for the rest of the fiscal year.

“We are asking you once again to help advance passage of the Senate passed, long-term funding of DHS by voting in favor of a seven-day patch that will be on suspension in the House tonight,” Pelosi told her troops. “Your vote tonight will assure that we will vote for full funding next week.”

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, denied that the Republican leadership had committed to such a vote next week.

Democrats have long insisted that the Department of Homeland Security should be funded for the long term. And that insistence, combined with opposition from tea party Republicans, doomed the three-week funding measure and made a Homeland Security shutdown seem likely through much of the early evening.

But the battle was fought largely among Republicans, with those in the Senate unwilling to risk defunding Homeland Security , and the most conservative Republicans in the House longing to defund the agency in order to prevent President Obama from enforcing his executive order freeing millions of undocumented aliens from the threat of deportation.

After the vote on the three-week measure, emotions seemed raw on both sides.

“We should have never fought this battle,” said Sen. Mark S. Kirk, a moderate Republican from Illinois. “In my view, in the long run, if you are blessed with the majority, you are blessed with the power to govern. If you’re going to govern, you have to act responsibly.”

Meantime, Rep. Steve King, a far-right Republican from Iowa, triumphantly tweeted: “Defund of Obama’s lawless #Amnesty still lives.”

Republicans from Western New York blamed the defeat of the three-week measure on Democrats, noting that it would have passed if only a few more Democrats had supported it.

“Making tough decisions in this day and age requires bipartisan consensus,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence. “Tonight, I voted to fund the Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately, Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats decided it was in their best interests to play politics rather than protect American citizens.”

Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, agreed, saying: “Democrats in the Senate and now the House have instead chosen to hold the American people’s safety hostage for short-term political gain. It is shameful.”

Democrats, though, saw all the shame on the Republican side of the aisle, noting that a Republican-led House and a Republican-led Senate themselves failed to agree on Homeland Security funding.

“Policy debates happen in Congress,” Pelosi tweeted. “But Republicans are wrong to jeopardize America’s security (because) of their emotions.”

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, defended his vote against the three-week funding measure by saying that one short-term funding bill after another is no way to operate the agency charged with protecting the American public from terrorist attacks.

“At a time when foreign fighters and lone wolf attacks pose an unprecedented threat to our national security, it is reckless and dangerous to hamstring our security agencies,” said Higgins, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. “We have been lurching from unnecessary budget crisis to unnecessary budget crisis since 2011 and it is time for it to stop.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, however, that Obama would have been willing to sign the three-week funding measure, which, Senate aides said, would likely have passed the Senate.

The late-night congressional action came as a temporary reprieve to Homeland Security employees, including 1,600 people in Western New York who work in operations such as Customs and Border Protection and the Border Patrol. Another 174 work for the Transportation Security Administration.

Many front-line DHS employees would have continued to work without pay if a shutdown had occurred because they are regarded as essential personnel. Non-essential personnel would have been furloughed. It’s unclear how many of the Western New York workers would have been considered essential and how many would have been furloughed.

Earlier in the day when a shutdown seemed likely, Higgins termed the looming furloughs for some Homeland Security employees, and the future without pay for others, “awful for morale.”

And Paul Kwiatkowski, president of the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 154, which represents about 700 customs agents, with almost all of them working in Western New York, was outraged.

“It’s depressing,” Kwiatkowski said, noting that Homeland Security should be funded for the long-term, just like other government agencies. “It’s not fair to us.”

News wire services contributed to this report. email: jzremski@buffnews.com