US Senate votes to clear path for security agency funding

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US Senate votes to clear path for security agency funding
Joseph Clancy, director of the U.S. Secret Service, listens during a Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 19, 2015. Clancy said it's unacceptable that it took five days for him to learn of allegations of misconduct involving two agents. The episode, under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, follows a series of lapses by agents that brought new leadership to the agency, along with scrutiny from lawmakers. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Joseph Clancy, director of the U.S. Secret Service, speaks during a Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 19, 2015. Clancy said it's unacceptable that it took five days for him to learn of allegations of misconduct involving two agents. The episode, under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, follows a series of lapses by agents that brought new leadership to the agency, along with scrutiny from lawmakers. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, questions Joseph Clancy, director of the U.S. Secret Service, not pictured, during a Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 19, 2015. Clancy said it's unacceptable that it took five days for him to learn of allegations of misconduct involving two agents. The episode, under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, follows a series of lapses by agents that brought new leadership to the agency, along with scrutiny from lawmakers. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, makes an opening statement during a Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing with Joseph Clancy, director of the U.S. Secret Service, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 19, 2015. Clancy said it's unacceptable that it took five days for him to learn of allegations of misconduct involving two agents. The episode, under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, follows a series of lapses by agents that brought new leadership to the agency, along with scrutiny from lawmakers. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 18: Vilvoorde, Belgium, Mayor Hans Bonte participates in a panel discussion during the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building February 18, 2015 in Washington, DC. In the wake of last month's slaughter of journalists and police officers in Paris by Muslim extremists, Hidalgo said Paris plans to sue Fox News for 'inaccurate reports' about Muslim 'no-go areas.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus talks to a reporter after attending the weekly Republican Senate policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol February 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats filibustered the legislation to fund the Homeland Security Department because it included a measure to roll back President Obama's executive order on immigration. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - FEBRUARY 02: US President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference at the Department of Homeland Security about his newly revealed budget and Republicans threat to not approve funding for the agency in Washington, D.C. on February 02, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
An employee sits at his computer terminal within the National Operations Center (NOC) at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, DC, February 2, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on his Fiscal Year 2016 Budget at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Feb. 2, 2015. Obama sent Congress a $4 trillion budget that would raise taxes on corporations and the nation's top earners, spend more on infrastructure and housing, and stabilize, but not eliminate, the annual budget deficit. Photographer: Kristoffer Tripplaar/Pool via Bloomberg
WASHINGTON, USA - FEBRUARY 02: US President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference at the Department of Homeland Security about his newly revealed budget and Republicans threat to not approve funding for the agency in Washington, D.C. on February 02, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson walks on Capitol Hill February 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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(Reuters) -- The Senate on Wednesday moved to avert a partial shutdown of the U.S. domestic security agency this weekend, voting to clear the way for a funding bill free of contentious immigration issues.

Hurdles remained, with conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives still opposed, and procedural negotiations threatening to delay final votes beyond a Friday funding deadline for the Department of Homeland Security.

The super-agency was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to coordinate domestic efforts on combating security threats, such as those recently made by Somali-based Islamic militants against U.S. shopping malls. Homeland Security encompasses the Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration as well as border, immigration and several other federal agencies.

A measure to fund the agency with $39.7 billion became the flashpoint in a fight by Republicans against Democratic President Barack Obama's recent executive order lifting the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants.

House Republicans approved a funding bill, but added provisions that would ban spending on Obama's immigration order, triggering weeks of partisan deadlock.

In a 98-2 vote on Wednesday, the Senate cleared the way to strip out the House's immigration provisions. Some of these would be voted on separately under the plan designed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to end the deadlock.

BIPARTISAN SENATE SUPPORT

The Senate's overwhelming support for McConnell's approach signaled to the House that there is strong bipartisan support for drama-free funding of Homeland Security. But McConnell was still negotiating to try to speed up the process.

"I will offer a clean substitute and work to expedite consideration of the bill as amended to get it back over to the House this week," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Democrats had insisted all along on a "clean" Homeland Security bill, free of the immigration restrictions, and Obama had threatened to veto the House-passed measure.

But House Speaker John Boehner, under pressure from restive conservatives in his party to fight Obama on immigration, declined to say if he would put a clean bill to a House vote.

With the midnight Friday deadline approaching, Boehner told reporters he would make no decision on McConnell's plan until the Senate acts, adding: "We're in a wait-and-see mode."

Acceptance of the Senate plan would amount to capitulation and a loss of leverage on immigration, some House conservatives said, despite a federal judge's order in Texas last week to block the department from implementing Obama's orders.

"We're standing firm not to pass a clean DHS" bill, said Representative Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas conservative.

'GAME OF CHICKEN'

Should funding run out, Homeland Security would be forced to furlough about 30,000 employees, or 15 percent of its workforce. Essential personnel, such as airport and border security agents, would stay on the job, but would not be paid until new funding is approved.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and some of his predecessors pleaded at a news conference for Congress to swiftly pass the funding bill.

"What I don't think makes sense is to hold the entire set of operations of the Department of Homeland Security in abeyance as a hostage as the legislative branch starts to play a game of chicken with the president," said former Secretary Michael Chertoff, who served under Republican President George W. Bush.

A cut-off in funds also would suspend grants to states to support local counter-terrorism activities.

"This is not the time to engage in activities that would threaten our counterterrorism capabilities ... and effectively to hold our counterterrorism agencies hostage to political machinations in D.C.," New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told a news conference.

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