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Shutdown averted: Congress passes bill fully funding DHS

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Tuesday, after weeks of debate and one near-shutdown, Congress has finally passed a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security through September. The House of Representatives approved a bill the Senate passed last week. It funds the department without any added conditions, like requiring the Obama administration to end its executive actions to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation.

In other words, Democrats won. House conservatives lost. For weeks, Speaker of the House John Boehner, had refused to allow a vote on a "clean" bill that funds DHS without controversial riders. But now he has caved, passing a clean bill with Democratic and some Republican support.

The outline of this deal became clear on Friday night, when Congress came within hours of letting the department run out of money and shut down. Boehner initially attempted to pass a three-week extension, to buy some time to negotiate with the Senate over a compromise bill. (An earlier House bill would have forced President Obama to end the executive actions, but Senate Democrats filibustered it four times.)

But Boehner couldn't get the extension to pass. House Democrats refused to support the speaker's strategy, and over 50 conservative Republicans joined them — because the extension itself didn't block the executive actions.

On Friday night, Democratic leaders in the House announced that they'd made a deal with Boehner and his team: Democrats would vote for a one-week extension for the department, giving it enough votes to pass. In return, Boehner would agree to bring up a clean bill that funds the department through September.

House conservatives were livid, and tried on Tuesday to slow down the vote on the clean bill as long as possible — they actually made the House parliamentarian read the bill out loud for over twenty minutes, which is a formality Congress usually skips over. The debate over the bill was exclusively between leadership-loyal Republicans who supported it and conservative Republicans who were opposed. But eventually — even though only a third of Republicans voted for the bill — it passed.

In some sense, though, it's been clear from the very beginning of the DHS fight in January that this is how it would end. Because this is how crises of governance always end in John Boehner's House of Representatives. Days before something happens that would severely impede the functioning of the US government, the parties are at an absolute standstill. But sooner or later, Boehner caves, and introduces a bill that gets the support of Democrats and moderate or party-loyalist Republicans to pass the House.

This probably won't be the last time it happens, either. So for future reference, we've compiled a list of every major crisis or near-crisis that's been resolved by Boehner giving up on conservatives and passing a bill with Democratic support. Here you go.

  • 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.
  • February 2015: Funding the Department of Homeland Security. In December 2014, Congress agreed to fund most of the federal government through September — but only extended funding for the Department of Homeland Security for a couple of months, because Republicans wanted to use funding the department as leverage to get the Obama administration to roll back its executive actions on immigration. Democrats insisted on a "clean" bill that funded the department without conditions. The stalemate lasted until a few days before the department was to run out of money, when the Senate agreed to pass a "clean" bill and vote separately on the immigration bill. House conservatives objected. The night funding was scheduled to run out — after Boehner had failed to pass a three-week extension of DHS funds, because of a conservative revolt — Boehner got Democrats to support a one-week extension, and agreed in return to bring up a "clean" DHS funding bill the next week. He did. It passed.