Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy on Funding the Department of Homeland Security

Mr. President, somebody asked me a little while ago, shouldn't we be voting on the mishmash on Homeland Security that the House of Representatives sent over because of the immigration matters in it. I reminded them that the Senate in the last Congress voted by a two to one margin on a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill which we sent to the House of Representatives, and the Speaker refused to bring the bill up. It probably would have passed.

Had it passed, it would have been signed into law and President Obama would not have issued any Executive Orders. There would be no need to. We had everything from border security, which Republicans and Democrats voted for, to minors and the DREAMers, which Republicans and Democrats voted for. In fact, we had hundreds of hours of hearings and markups. We had around 140 amendments that were brought up, and I would call for one Republican amendment and one Democratic amendment, and we went back and forth. Day after day, night after night. We did 140 or 141 amendments. All but one of them passed by a bipartisan vote. We then had dozens of amendments on the floor, all of which passed with bipartisan votes. The final bill got 68 votes.

We’ve done the work on immigration. Let’s not play games, and endanger the needed funding for the Department of Homeland Security at a time when we face all kinds of dangers in this country. Let’s not close down Department of Homeland Security on a made-up mission of doing something for immigration. We passed an immigration bill. They could take out the draft of that old bill, vote it up, and vote it down. Sixty-eight Senators, Republicans and Democrats alike voted for it. Let’s bring up something similar.

Let’s have a real debate. Let’s have amendments. Let’s go to immigration. Then in the meantime, let's pass the Department of Homeland Security bill. Millions upon millions of taxpayers' dollars are being wasted even today as they prepare for a shutdown not knowing whether these tactics are going to close down the Department, that major part of our government, or not. They have to spend the money. That’s money wasted, to say nothing about the job that's not being done.

Mr. President, I refer to my speech about Groundhog Day because we've seen this one. Our friends across the way of the Capitol closed down the government before.  

In just two days, unless Congress acts, the doors at the Department of Homeland Security, one of the country’s primary national security agencies, will shutter.  Unless we act, 30,000 workers will be furloughed without pay.  Another 130,000 will be asked to work in defense of our nation’s security, without pay.

This is another needless, made-in-Washington crisis.  We find ourselves here today because of the House’s initial failure to act for more than a year and a half on bipartisan legislation that the Senate passed to help fix our broken immigration system.  The House’s inaction forced the President to do what he could through the executive authorities available to him.  Those actions are welcomed.  But they are not permanent, legislative fixes.  Now, because Republicans in the House are angry that the President acted where they would not, they are threatening the functions of the very agency that helps protect our borders, our airspace, our waterways and our communities.

Every state in this country will be affected by a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.  In the midst of a fiercely cold winter, when the Northeast has been devastated by life-threatening storms, we put at risk important recovery resources available through FEMA.  We put at risk counterterrorism efforts and analysis of critical intelligence, as we continue to mount and improve our national security in the face of unprecedented violent threats from enemies overseas.  It is appalling that in the face of reports that terrorists want to target such domestic sites as the Mall of America, some in Congress are playing petty politics with the vital operations of the Department of Homeland Security.

A short-term continuing resolution will not solve this problem.  A continuing resolution for the Department of Homeland Security recognizes neither the evolving threats to our nation’s security, nor the continuing stresses on our immigration system.  A continuing resolution for the Department will tear immigrant families apart, rather than support keeping them together.  A continuing resolution will not support an increase of $400 million for the Department.  It will freeze FEMA resources at their current levels.

And let’s remember one key fact that I do not hear these reckless voices in Congress acknowledging:  The funding bill we should be considering – the Shaheen-Mikulski bill – already is a compromise bill.  It is far from perfect.  For example, I strongly oppose the new funding for family detention.  Incarcerating women and children fleeing violence runs contrary to our long history as a nation that offers refuge to those most in need.  Nonetheless I am prepared to support the bill, because it will help state and local communities with disaster recovery, with law enforcement activities, and will support our national security and counterterrorism efforts.

The Shaheen-Mikulski bill is the product of bipartisan negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and the House.  But for the President’s executive actions in November, it would have been included in the omnibus spending bill that was signed into law last year.  Now we are on the brink of a potential shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.  This is a fabricated crisis.  The solution is simple.  The Senate should approve the Shaheen-Mikulski bill, send it to the House, and end this stalemate. The House should promptly consider the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration legislation approved overwhelmingly by the Senate in 2013. 

If there is another debate to be had about fixing our immigration system, let’s have that debate.  But let’s stop holding the operations of one of the nation’s key national security agency captive, while asking tens of thousands of hardworking Americans – including more than 2500 Vermonters – to either work without pay, or take an unpaid leave of absence.  This is not the way to run a country.  Unlike in so many other questions facing our country, the solution to this contrived disaster is easy.  Members of Congress just need to have the courage to act.

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