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Behind the funding fight to avert Homeland Security shutdown

Congress passed a one-week spending bill late Friday night to avert a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security -- as leaders in both political parties quelled a revolt by House conservatives who were furious that the measure left President Barack Obama's immigration policy intact. For more on the politics behind this funding fight, Roll Call reporter Niels Lesniewski joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington D.C.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR:

    For more details on the politics behind this funding fight, I'm joined now from Washington, D.C. by Roll Call reporter Niels Lesniewski.

    So, what happened? Why did we get this close again to almost shutting down the Department of Homeland Security?

  • NIELS LESNIEWSKI, ROLL CALL:

    Well, there really was the somewhat surprising, I think, for a lot of observers, situation that developed in the House where the House was unable to pass the three-week stopgap spending bill for Homeland Security, which sent everyone scrambling well into the evening on Friday night.

    What it does, though, is it sets up a test for the coming week, requiring basically the House of Representatives to go through this whole process again some time Monday or later in the week.

    And the question will be, once again, does Speaker Boehner allow the full-year funding bill for the Homeland Security Department that has already passed the Senate onto the floor of his chamber, or is there another sort of stopgap in and is the Homeland Security Department going to be funded week to week for the foreseeable future?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, is there a rift now between the House and Senate Republican leadership?

  • NIELS LESNIEWSKI:

    Well, there's a rift between many people in the House of Representatives I think and a lot of Republican senators.

    I don't know to what extent it goes to the leadership level, but we've heard any number of Republican senators who are on the ballot in 2016, particularly those who are in states that would be more inclined to vote for a Democrat for the Senate who are saying that this fight really needed to be resolved, and they're just putting off the inevitable over on the House side by using these short-term bills.

    We've heard from that Senator Mark Kirk in Illinois and others.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And so, this also moves the clock, right, on what other pieces of legislation Congress can try to tackle, much less get approved.

  • NIELS LESNIEWSKI:

    Yes, every time that you have to spend another week wrangling over immigration and funding Homeland Security, doing the basic work of government, the closer that you get to other things reaching their deadlines.

    We're only about a month away from having the recurring problem over the amount of money that doctors get paid for treating patients who have Medicare benefits, and there's all sorts of other things that are coming up.

    And so, the longer you spend on this the less time there is to actually advance an agenda rather than just putting out fires.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK. Briefly, do you know if the members of Congress are hearing from their constituents about how this brinkmanship maybe isn't really for them?

  • NIELS LESNIEWSKI:

    Well, there's been some sign of that. The real sign of that is going to come about a week from now because the House is scheduled to go out on recess actually in mid-March.

    The Senate's going to be here all the way through the Easter break. But the House members are actually going to be going home for a whole week, and that could be fascinating to watch.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Niels Lesniewski from Roll Call, joining us from Washington — thanks so much.

  • NIELS LESNIEWSKI:

    Thank you.

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