House passes $38.9 billion DHS spending bill

The bill passed despite a warning that President Obama would veto the bill if it were presented for his signature.

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However, Obama's objection to the bill is really an objection to the absence of a House-Senate budget compromise. Obama has said he would veto all spending bills that are based on the House GOP budget plan, and hopes his veto threat encourages a budget deal that restores cuts made by the sequester.

But with no deal in sight, the House has said it would work through spending bills, starting with those dealing with defense and security. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the DHS fits right into that mold.

"In such austere budget times, this bill rightly prioritizes spending on programs that save American lives," he said during Wednesday's debate. "Frontline protection, terrorism prevention and response, disaster recovery assistance, and a strong and secure border — all of these are paramount to the safety and security of our homeland."

He and other members noted the April bombing of the Boston Marathon as a reminder that terrorists are still targeting the United States.

"The terrible attack on the Boston Marathon underscored the need to support key readiness programs, provide heroic first responders with the funding they deserve, and improve intelligence and threat-targeting activities — so we can help avoid terrible attacks like this in the future," Rogers said.

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) agreed, and praised language in the bill that slightly increases a $1.5 billion Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to states and localities. He noted that the bill also doubles the Obama administration's requested funding level for the Office of Bombing Prevention.

Elsewhere, the bill increases funding for border enforcement efforts through U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

To assist with natural disasters, the bill provides $6.2 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund, which Price said "will ensure that there are sufficient disaster relief resources moving into the coming fiscal year."

Democrats did have some complaints about the bill, including two sections dealing with immigration. The bill maintains the so-called 287(g) program, which allows federal immigration officials to work with state and local officials to enforce immigration laws.

Democrats said this program is leading to racial tensions in local communities across the country, but the House rejected attempts to kill the program.

Republicans succeeded in attaching their own immigration amendment to the bill. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) proposed language that would defund President Obama's orders giving immigration officials the flexibility to focus deportation efforts on criminals, which Republicans have called "administrative amnesty."

The GOP was also able to include language stopping the DHS from entering into new contracts to buy bulk ammunition. New contracts could only be signed after the DHS reports to Congress on why it needs the ammunition, and its cost.

The department's plans to buy 1.1 billion rounds of ammunition prompted sharp criticism from conservatives, many of whom feared the government was preparing itself for an insurrection. The DHS has said its massive purchase is aimed at reducing costs.

The GOP also sought to tweak language related to the Transportation Security Administration, given years of complaints about the TSA's treatment of passengers and its questionable track record in thwarting terrorist plots.

The House accepted language from Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) to move $31.8 million from the TSA's administrative budget into a private Screening Partnership program. The House also agreed to an amendment from Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) that would prohibit the agency from altering its policy on banning knives and other sharp objects from flights.

But the House rejected a proposal from Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) to eliminate the TSA altogether and pocket the $4.8 billion annual savings.

The House has now passed the DHS bill and the military construction/Veterans Affairs spending bill, sending both to the Senate. However, it's unclear whether they will be considered in the Senate, or somehow be included in a continuing spending resolution later this year, as many expect.

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