The bill, H.R. 2017, is the first of many appropriations bills that House Republicans are expected to bring up this year that cut spending based on the GOP's 2012 budget plan, even though that plan is not and is unlikely to ever be passed by the Senate. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, reiterated that the cuts reflect the need to find cuts in order to stave off a fiscal crisis.
"This bill includes robust spending reductions in bureaucracy and on programs that are not producing, cutting waste, reducing spending and instilling genuine budget discipline," he said.
Republican allowed unlimited amendments to the bill, and going into the debate, Democrats were highly opposed to the dramatic cuts Republicans had proposed in the grants DHS can give to firefighters. The bill as first offered on the House floor would have cut $460 million in these grants.
On Wednesday, however, Democrats and Republicans worked together to shift funding around to avoid most of these cuts. An amendment approved that night restored $320 million of the grant funding, and took that money from DHS executive functions so overall funding levels remained the same.
Democrats were later able to approve the bill further by allowing these funds to be used to hire firefighters.
Several other amendments similarly took from the executive functions of DHS and gave to front line operations. For example, $10 million was redirected to improve cell phone communications on the southern U.S. border, and $1 million was taken to improve federal-state cooperation on immigration enforcement.
The House also voted to cut $600,000 from the office of the secretary, a response to Republican complaints that DHS has not been forthcoming in offering testimony to Congress this year.
On Thursday, members approved two amendments from Republicans that would prevent DHS from transferring funds for environmental mitigation purposes related to border activities, and prevent DHS from participating in climate change meetings.
While Democrats argued throughout the debate that Republicans were being too stingy with DHS funding, the House also rejected an attempt by Republican members to cut DHS by another 10 percent.