Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I rise to urge the Senate to take up a clean Homeland Security appropriations bill and pass it without further delay. I know we have had several votes on the floor on proceeding to the bill, but I would urge the leadership to make it clear that we stand on record for a clean Homeland Security appropriations bill.
We have an obligation to protect the American people. Given the terrorist threat we face both at home and abroad, it is irresponsible to continue to fund the Department of Homeland Security with short-term budgets and bring them to the edge of an agency shutdown. We also should not force hard-working Federal workers to stand in the crossfire between Congress and the President.
Providing the resources our Federal, State, and local law enforcement officers need to carry out their vital around-the-clock mission should not be caught up in partisan political disagreements. We need a clean appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security.
We face a dangerous world today in light of recent terrorist attacks throughout Europe, Asia, and North America, and the ongoing threat of ISIS. I know I express the views of all Members of the Senate in expressing our deep condolences and prayers for the Kayla Mueller family as we learn today of her fate at the hands of ISIS. ISIS is actively recruiting foreign fighters, who are being radicalized and then returned to their home countries, including countries in Europe and North America.
We need to fully fund without further delay, uncertainty, or another short-term budget the critical homeland security, law enforcement, and intelligence activities and programs of the Department of Homeland Security.
Mr. President, we are now 4 months into the fiscal year. One-third of the fiscal year is already over for the Department of Homeland Security. We should not keep funding DHS on short-term budgets. No agency or private business, for that matter, can effectively implement a budget and carry out its mission under this type of financial tightrope. How would you like to run a business not knowing whether your budget is going to be there starting March 1? How do you plan? How do you make commitments for the year to carry out your mission when you don’t know whether you are going to have the budget support starting March 1 or whether it is going to be continued on a continuing resolution, whether you are going to have to go through a government shutdown or whether you are going to have a budget? You can’t run an agency that way.
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has stated that if Congress continues to fund his agency on short-term budgets, it will harm its mission and programs at the agency. We created the Department of Homeland Security in response to the devastating attacks on our country on September 11.
For example, short-term funding may limit more aggressive counterterrorism efforts, weaken our cyber security protections against hackers trying to corrupt or steal our data, delay enhancements to aviation security, slow down new border security initiatives, and defer new grants to State and local law enforcement. DHS may have to delay or postpone contract awards and new acquisitions, which also hurts small businesses and our economy. DHS will have to scale back employee training and postpone the hiring of new personnel.
We have broad bipartisan support on almost all aspects of this $40 billion Homeland Security funding measure. This legislation funds critical agencies, including the Coast Guard; the Transportation Security Administration, TSA; the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA; the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office; and the Secret Service, just to mention a few of the agencies that come under the Department of Homeland Security.
Three former heads of the Department of Homeland Security, both under Democratic and Republican administrations, recently wrote a letter to Congress urging us to passes a clean Homeland Security appropriations bill and avoid another short-term funding measure or, worse yet, a government shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security at the end of February.
Let me quote from a part of the letter from former Homeland Security Secretaries Ridge, Chertoff, and Napolitano, again representing both Democratic and Republican administrations:
[W]e write to you today to respectfully request that you consider decoupling critical legislation to fund DHS in FY ’15 from a legislative response to President Obama’s executive action on immigration…The President has said very publicly that he will “oppose any legislative effort to undermine the executive actions that he” has taken on immigration. Therefore, by tethering a bill to fund DHS in FY 2015 to a legislative response to the President’s executive action on immigration, the likelihood of a DHS shutdown increases.
The letter continues:
We do not question your desire to have a larger debate about the nation’s immigration laws. However, we cannot emphasize enough that DHS’s responsibilities are much broader than its responsibility to oversee the Federal immigration agencies and to protect our borders. And funding for the entire agency should not be put in jeopardy by the debate about immigration…It is imperative that we ensure that DHS is ready, willing and able to protect the American people. To that end, we urge you not to risk funding for the operations that protect every American and to pass a clean DHS funding bill.
That is from a letter from three former Secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security who worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Mr. President, what if Congress allows DHS funding to lapse on February 27? That is the end of the current funding resolution. We would then ask critical frontline personnel, such as Border Patrol agents and air marshals, to work without pay. That is insulting to those law enforcement officers who are putting their lives on the line to keep Americans safe every day. That is insulting to the families of those law enforcement officers who depend on a steady paycheck to make ends meet. And that is insulting to the American people, who deserve nothing less than world-class service from government officials.
I must tell you that we have gone through government shutdowns before. It hurts people, no question about it. But guess who gets hurt the most. The taxpayers of this country. It ends up costing us more. We don’t save taxpayer dollars. It ends up costing more, jeopardizing the mission, and putting individual families at risk.
Let me cite one example that many of our States and localities know very well. It is the Emergency Management Grant Program. Many local fire, police, and emergency management officials rely on funding from the Homeland Security Grant Program, which provides funds to States, territories, and other local governments to prevent, protect against, and respond to potential terrorist attacks and other hazards. This is a program local governments rely upon. They do not know whether they are going to get any of these funds after March 1. How do they plan? Local officials as well rely on funding from FEMA’s emergency management performance grants. These grants help them to prepare for the unexpected, whether it is a natural disaster or some type of terrorist activity. It allows them to be prepared. We require this training, and it is 50 percent Federal funds and 50 percent local funds. How do they make arrangements to set up this training if they do not know whether the Federal funds are going to be there?
I can speak for the State of Maryland. We have a very tough budget. Our Governor is trying to figure out how he is going to make ends meet. He doesn’t have the resources to advance the Federal share. That is no way for us to work in federalism with our local governments when we have a partnership to keep everyone safe.
I can mention many other programs that are in jeopardy of not being funded if we don’t pass a clean bill, but let me just in conclusion address the issue of immigration.
Due to many extraneous amendments that were added by the House to the Homeland Security appropriations bill, we have this challenge here in the Senate. The President has made it clear he will veto any bill that expressly limits his authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion on immigration matters.
While we agree that our current immigration system needs comprehensive reform, including border security enhancements, this appropriations bill is not the place for that debate. No matter what side of this debate you are on, most of us agree that the American immigration system is badly broken. Comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue. We need a balanced immigration system that is fair.
My strong preference is that Congress send the President a comprehensive immigration reform bill that he can sign into law. This would provide a more thorough and more permanent solution than Executive action. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in the last Congress, and I am sure we can do so again. My hope is that the House will take it up soon so we can come together in a bipartisan way, reconcile our differences, and pass comprehensive immigration reform as a separate bill.
Funding for the Department of Homeland Security expires Friday, February 27, which is now less than 3 weeks away. We are not scheduled to be in session one of those weeks because of the district work period. The Senate should act now to pass a clean Homeland Security bill and send it to the President without further delay. That is in the best interest of the American people