House raids DHS executive funds to boost security operations

The DHS bill is the first being considered by the 112th Congress, and members are doing so under the first open rule in nearly four years. The open rule is letting members propose an unlimited number of germane amendments, so the process is expected to continue Wednesday night and into Thursday.

By a 333-87 vote, the House accepted an amendment from Reps. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) that would cut upper level management funding at DHS and spend it on firefighter grant programs. Democrats in particular have said the GOP's bill cuts too much from DHS firefighter grants to state and local governments, and the bipartisan amendment would restore $320 million in grant funding.

That increase would restore most of the $460 million in grant funding that the bill would have cut.

Another amendment, from Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), would cut $10 million from the DHS undersecretary of management to improve cell phone communications on the border. Poe stressed that this idea came from Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot in the head earlier this year. Poe's amendment passed in a 327-93 vote.

A third amendment from Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) would take another $1 million from the office of the secretary in order to increase funding for a program that allows federal-state cooperation on immigration enforcement. This was approved in a 268-151 vote.

Members also approved an amendment by voice vote that cuts another $600,000 from the office of the secretary, and places that money in the deficit reduction account. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said this amendment should be supported because the DHS secretary has refused to testify before Congress this year, which he said is "shabby and unacceptable treatment" toward Congress.

But members rejected other amendments to raid funds from the secretary's office, including one from Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) that would restore $337 million in grant funds for priority urban areas under the Urban Area Security Initiative. That amendment failed in a 154-266 vote.

One from Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) would have increased funds by $32 million for the purchase of air and marine vehicles for DHS, and would have taken these funds from the office of the secretary and the office of science and technology. Another Cuellar amendment to use $10 million in undersecretary of management funds to improve border fencing was defeated by voice vote.

Finally, an amendment from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) that would have taken $2.5 million from the secretary's office to increase funding for rail security. That amendment failed by voice vote.

After considering these amendments at about 7 p.m., the House continued working its way through amendments, a process that was expected to take until Thursday.