Washington – With a last-minute vote, Congress averted a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, sparing 1,500 agency employees in Connecticut their paychecks — for now.
They remain on the job, with pay, because the House and Senate voted late Friday to fund the DHS for another seven days. Funding had been set to end just before midnight.
About half of the federal employees in Connecticut who would be affected by a shutdown, about 720, work for the Coast Guard, about 300 work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and about 440 others work for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Coast Guard Academy in New London and other DHS agencies.
It was a day of high drama in Congress as the House and Senate could not agree on a funding bill as the shutdown loomed.
The standoff occurred because House Republicans insisted on a bill that included riders that would block President Obama’s immigration initiatives that would give provisional legal status to up to 4 million undocumented immigrants.
With the help of the votes of Connecticut U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, the Senate voted 68 to 31 for a “clean” spending bill, without the immigration riders.
House Democrats, who reject the riders, opposed a three-week stop-gap funding bill Friday, just hours before the DHS funding was set to run out. The bill, failed on a 202-224 vote because 52 conservative Republicans joined Democrats in voting “no.” The bill was crafted to give the House and Senate some time to seek negotiations on a longer-term bill that could include changes in Obama’s immigration policy
Every member of Connecticut’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives voted against the three-week bill. But a few hours later, they voted for the one-week extension.
“I supported this legislation only as a stepping-stone to passage of a bipartisan bill that funds DHS for the rest of the fiscal year,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District.
She also criticized the GOP for insisting on the immigration riders.
“The majority is playing dangerous games with our national security because they do not agree with the president’s position on immigration,” she said. “They have torn up the fundamental rule of American politics: that we do not play political games with the security of our nation.”
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, joined most of his Democratic colleagues in urging House Republicans to take up the Senate bill.
“No political difference of opinion is worth risking the safety of our country,” Larson said. “Our TSA agents, Homeland Security officials, and other individuals protecting the American people do not deserve to be held hostage any longer.”
Now Congress has just seven days to negotiate a final spending bill.
Most of the DHS workers in Connecticut are considered “essential” and would remain on the job without pay if Congress fails to prevent a shutdown. But some would be furloughed, mostly administrative personnel. The Coast Guard Academy would also remain open, as it’s training is considered vital to the security of the nation.
Federal officials pleaded with Congress to approve the $40 billion DHS spending bill that would keep the department running until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.
“The vast majority of TSA personnel – including front-line operational and support personnel – rely on biweekly paychecks to support themselves and their families,” said TSA Acting Administrator Melvin Carraway. “They deserve better than the proposition of coming to work every day on an IOU.”
Nationally 230,000 DHS personnel would stop receiving paychecks if Congress fails again to approve a long-term bill.
All but about 30,000 DHS employees would continue to work. But hiring, training and other functions of the department would stop.
Governors have begun to be concerned lately about the cutoff of homeland security money to their states.
“If Congress doesn’t act before Friday, Connecticut will feel the effects of inaction,” Gov. Dannel Malloy told reporters this week.
The governor said preliminary damage assessments for the storms that hit Connecticut and other Northeastern states would be held up, as would non-disaster grants and federal funds for anti-terror programs.