Senate Votes to Clear Path For Security Agency Funding

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday took steps to avert a partial shutdown within days of the U.S. domestic security agency, voting overwhelmingly to clear a path for passage of an agency funding bill free of contentious immigration reform provisions.

The 98-2 procedural vote will allow the Senate to vote well before a midnight Friday deadline on stand-alone funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

The Senate will now be able to strip some controversial immigration provisions that Republicans had added to the funding bill. These would be voted on separately under a plan designed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell’s approach ended several weeks of deadlock and signaled to the House of Representatives that there was strong bipartisan support for drama-free funding of Homeland Security.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid warned that the House would quickly need to pass the measure with “no tricks,” adding: “This isn’t the time for games.”

House Speaker John Boehner, seemingly unable to unite House Republicans, earlier on Wednesday had demanded that the Senate act first on the proposed plan for a “clean” funding bill.

Spending authority at the Department of Homeland Security will expire at midnight on Friday.

The House has passed a $39.7 billion funding bill for the agency, but it contains Republican provisions that ban spending on Democratic President Barack Obama’s 2014 and 2012 executive orders lifting the threat of deportation against millions of undocumented immigrants.

Senate Democrats have used procedural tactics to block the measure in the Senate, and Obama has threatened to veto it. Senate Democrats have insisted all along on a “clean” DHS bill that is free of immigration restrictions.

Should funding run out, Homeland Security would be forced to furlough about 30,000 employees, or 15 percent of its workforce. Essential personnel, such as airport and border security agents, would stay on the job, but would not be paid until new funding is approved.