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The Senate's passed a bill to fund DHS. Is John Boehner delaying the inevitable?

Best buds all along!
Best buds all along!
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

  1. The Senate has officially agreed to fund the Department of Homeland Security without striking down the Obama administration's executive actions on immigration.
  2. This makes it more likely that a "clean" DHS funding bill, which doesn't affect the immigration measures, will eventually become law.
  3. But it doesn't resolve the immediate funding crisis facing DHS, which will run out of money at the end of the day today unless both chambers of Congress and the president agree on a bill. The House isn't taking up the bill the Senate just passed, so it won't pass in time.
  4. Instead, House leadership is trying to pass a bill that would temporarily fund DHS for the next three weeks. If that bill passes the House today, it will likely pass the Senate and avoid a DHS shutdown this weekend.

How did the Senate pass a DHS funding bill?

The Senate passed DHS funding by striking out the provisions added by the House in January that would require President Obama to stop his executive actions extending protection from deportation to millions of unauthorized immigrants — which had kept Senate Democrats from supporting the bill.

Instead, after DHS funding has secured,the Senate will consider a separate bill that would block the president's executive actions, without tying it to DHS funding. (Republicans tried to bring that bill up on Friday, but since DHS funding is still up in the air, Democrats filibustered the bill.)

How does this fight end?

The Senate bill doesn't affect the immediate outcome of the DHS fight, since the House is sticking to its plan to fund the department for only three more weeks. If the House can pass the short-term measure, the Senate will probably approve it, meaning a shutdown will be averted at the last minute.

But the central question is still whether the House of Representatives will agree to take up a "clean" DHS funding bill, of the type the Senate passed this morning. That continues to look like the only option likely to garner the support of Senate Democrats and the President.

As I wrote Monday, Boehner has been in this position many times before. "And every time, sooner or later, the stalemate gets resolved in the same way: (he) caves and introduces a bill that gets the support of Democrats and moderate or party-loyalist Republicans to pass the House."

Here's the rundown of how this has played out over the last few years:

  • Summer 2011: The debt ceiling fight.* This isn't exactly the same as the others: instead of Boehner initially refusing to compromise and then giving in, he worked out a compromise with President Obama that would raise the debt ceiling in exchange for negotiated tax hikes and spending cuts, then was talked out of that compromise by then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. As a result, Congress ended up raising the debt ceiling by setting up the sequester (a set of mandatory spending cuts). But Eric Cantor isn't around anymore, and even if he were, intra-leadership conservative challenges to Boehner's authority weren't as strong after 2011. In recent months, in fact, Republican leadership has made it clear that their job is to enforce party loyalty from the top down.
  • January 2013: The fiscal cliff. At the end of December 2012, a whole stack of temporary policies (including the Bush tax cuts) were set to expire at the same time — which economists predicted would combine to shock the US into a recession. But as the expiration date loomed, Republicans refused to consider any plan that would continue any of these policies while increasing marginal tax rates by even a cent. Congress barely went over the fiscal cliff, but managed to stop itself on the way down. Then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Vice President Joe Biden worked out a deal (including tax increases) that the Senate passed on New Year's morning 2013. Boehner, despite previous promises not to bring up any bill that violated the "Hastert rule" and didn't have the support of a majority of Republicans, brought the Senate deal up for a vote later that day, where it passed with the support of Democrats and a minority of Republicans.
  • January 2013: Hurricane Sandy relief. Right after the fiscal cliff showdown, Boehner was forced to break the Hastert Rule again — this time for a bill that would provide disaster-recovery funds to northeastern states hit by November 2012's Hurricane Sandy. At the end of the 110th Congress on January 1st (right after the fiscal-cliff deal), Boehner refused to bring up a Senate-passed relief bill because conservatives balked at more spending. But he was hammered by northeastern Republicans, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and within the week he'd agreed to bring up a bill in the new Congress. The series of caves on the Hastert rule in the first months of 2013 (at the end of November, he would break it again to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act) are what solidified Boehner's reputation in DC.
  • October 2013: Government shutdown. This is the worst-case scenario: the deadline for Congressional action came and went, and the federal government shut down for 16 days, before Speaker Boehner relented and allowed a bill to come to the floor that continued to fund the government without making changes to the Affordable Care Act and delaying its implementation for a year. But relent he did. The bill ultimately got about a third of House Republicans to join House Democrats in supporting it, practically sailing through the House.
  • January 2014: Another debt-ceiling increase. This one was relatively straightforward and drama-free. Republicans initially demanded that certain military pensions be restored as a condition of them raising the debt ceiling; Boehner and House leadership agreed to a "clean" raise instead.

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