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U.S. Senate impasse could cause W.Va. layoffs

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Nearly 400 Department of Homeland Security employees from the Eastern Panhandle will feel the impact of a partial government shutdown if Congress can’t come to a solution by Friday.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in a telephone conference Monday afternoon that 14 percent of those workers would be laid off, while the remaining employees would still have to report to work without being paid.

DHS accounts for 598 jobs in West Virginia, with two-thirds of employment in the Eastern Panhandle.

With so many jobs on the line, Manchin said he feels strongly about finding a solution.

However, Manchin said he is not in support of the bill passed by the House last month, which simultaneously approved funding for DHS and rolls back Obama’s executive action’s on immigration.

“Why I think it’s so wrong is it sends a message to the whole world that we can’t even put our politics aside and do what’s good for our country in the most serious of concerns, which is defending of homeland,” he said.

Manchin said he is “not going to play politics” with Homeland Security, which he said is vitally important to the country.

“I’m just not going to do it,” Manchin said.

Meeting with the nation’s governors Monday during their annual conference, President Barack Obama said furloughing DHS employees would have a direct impact on the nation’s economy. He also said the shutdown would compromise national security.

“These are folks who, if they don’t have a paycheck, are not going to be able to spend that money in your states,” the president said. “And as governors, you know that we can’t afford to play politics with our national security.”

The president’s words appeared to have little impact on Capitol Hill, where Senate Republicans tried but failed for the fourth time to advance House-passed legislation that funds the Homeland Security Department through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year, while also rolling back Obama’s executive actions granting work permits to millions of immigrants in this country illegally.

The vote was 47-46, short of the 60 needed as Senate Democrats lined up to block the legislation from advancing. Three other GOP attempts earlier this month to move the bill yielded similar outcomes. Democrats say they won’t agree to the bill unless the GOP-written immigration provisions are removed.

Monday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., proposed a stand-alone vote against the immigration policies in an effort to resolve the impasse.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson argued Monday that the furloughs could harm the U.S. response to terrorist threats and warnings, such as the one late Saturday on Minnesota’s Mall of America. Some 80 percent of Federal Emergency Management Agency workers would be furloughed even as that agency contends with two months of devastating snowfall and cold from New England to the Mountain States, Johnson said.

But some Republicans have argued that because the large majority of agency staff would keep working, albeit without getting paid, the harmful impacts of a shutdown were being exaggerated.

House Republicans said they had no interest in revisiting the issue after passing a $39.7 billion bill last month that funds the department through Sept. 30, the end of the budget year, while also undoing Obama’s actions on immigration. Instead, they insisted the Senate must act.

“A federal judge has confirmed that what we’ve done is the right thing,” conservative Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said Monday. “I hope that the U.S. Senate can see the light and do the right thing.”

More than 230,000 DHS workers nationwide will be impacted by the partial shutdown if no solution is reached by Friday.

– Staff writer Chelsea DeMello can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 215, or The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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