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Boehner can't rule out Homeland Security Department shutdown

WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner left open the possibility Thursday of a potential shutdown at the Department of Homeland Security because of a congressional impasse over immigration.

He said a shutdown "would be bad," but that Senate Democrats would be to blame if the department's $40 billion budget were to lapse in late February.

"The House has done its job. We've spoken. And now it's up to the Senate to do their job," the Ohio Republican said. "If funding for Homeland Security lapses, Washington Democrats are gonna bear the responsibility." ''

The House has passed a bill that funds the department through September, when the current budget year ends, while also overturning President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.

Senate Democrats have blocked debate on the bill because they oppose the immigration provisions, which limited deportations for millions of people in the United States illegally and made them eligible for work permits.

In the past Boehner has said the House strategy would avoid the threat of a government shutdown, an assurance he did not repeat under questioning from reporters Thursday.

The way out of the stalemate is uncertain, with funding for the agency set to run out Feb. 27 without congressional action. Even if that happened, most department workers would stay on the job because they are deemed essential at agencies including the Secret Service and Border Patrol. But most would go without pay and some 30,000 workers would be furloughed.

One possible outcome is a short-term extension of current funding levels.

For now the Republican strategy, at least in public, amounts to blaming Senate Democrats for blocking their legislation. Republicans now hold majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time in eight years, but to their frustration Senate Democrats are still able to exert great influence because of rules giving significant rights to the minority party.