DHS Shutdown Looms: How Did Congressional Dysfunction Get This Bad?

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security only received a tiny bit of a saving grace when Congress managed to pass legislation buying it a week of operation before it shuts down without funding. After the Republican-controlled House of Representatives couldn’t pass a budget for DHS, they passed a measure allowing the department a week of funding — hoping that will give them the time to come to an agreement on a new budget. Let’s take a look at how we got to the brink of a shutdown once again.

How did this start?

For months, Republicans have been trying to overturn President Barack Obama’s executive actions that gave legal status to millions of immigrants living in the U.S. without documentation. In their efforts, some Republicans have suggested defunding DHS, the home of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Republicans in the House and Senate are not in agreement over strategy and have therefore been unable to pass a bill to successfully fund DHS.

To avoid a shutdown, the Senate passed a bill that would fund DHS until September 30, but when the House leadership attempted to pass its bill, it was unable to get the votes. The House was unable to even pass a bill that would give it a three-week period to work on a budget (that proposal was shot down shot down by a vote of 203-224). They managed to extend the DHS budget for a week with a vote of 357-60, allowing Congress relatively little time to negotiate before the impending shutdown of the department.

Republicans don’t even agree on the shutdown

If Republicans, who control both houses of Congress were in agreement, the story would play out differently. But many Republicans oppose causing a shutdown of DHS. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said to CNN, “I fully believe that we shouldn’t be playing politics with a national security agency like Homeland Security, particularly given the high threat that we’re in right now, as we look at ISIS.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested that the court process will find Obama’s executive actions unconstitutional, as a federal judge in Texas already has. “For God’s sake, don’t shut down the premier homeland security defense line called the Department of Homeland Security,” he said on Fox and Friends. “If we do, as Republicans, we’ll get blamed.”

Graham is concerned about how these actions reflect on the Republican party, which he thinks is in prime position in 2015, running Congress. “There’s nobody to blame but us now when it comes to the appropriations process,” Graham said, via the New York Times. “If we can run the place more traditional, like a business, so to speak, I think we flourish. If we self-inflict on the budget, and the appropriations process, and we can’t get the government managed well, then I think we’re in trouble.”

“The D.H.S. funding fight is the first test of the new Republican Congress and so far, they’re failing,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to the New York Times.

What the shutdown would mean for DHS

Numbers from the White House say that if DHS shuts down, at least 30,000 employees would be forced to go on furlough. On top of that, hundreds of thousands of employees would be forced to work without pay. These DHS employees include 40,000 Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers, 50,000 TSA aviation security screeners, 13,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement law enforcement agents and officers, 40,000 active-duty Coast Guard military members, and 4,000 Secret Service law enforcement agents and officers.

CNN suggests state law enforcement “could feel the pain of a shutdown the most,” as DHS grants provide funding for many local law enforcement operations, including training, hiring, and purchasing new equipment. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has said, without DHS funding, “we cannot engage in new starts, new spending, new initiatives, new grants to state and local law enforcement to fund homeland security missions.”

According to CNN, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said that disaster recovery grants would be put on hold, and the department could not accept new applications. The White House writes, “Without funding, the Department of Homeland Security will not be at its fullest operational capacity. What’s more, those who continue to keep America safe will be doing so without pay. The Department deserves our full support to execute its mission and protect America by helping to prevent terrorism, securing our borders, and responding to disasters.”

While natural disasters would be dealt with, a shutdown could definitely affect the quality and speed of response. “If we have a no-notice event — a terrorist event, some kind of technological disaster or an earthquake,” Fugate said, “I’ll be calling staff back in the same time we’re responding.”

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