Potential shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security offers chance for Republican legislature to learn from its mistakes

By Sam Fountain

(DonkeyHotey/Flickr)
(DonkeyHotey/Flickr)

Barring action by the United States Senate, the Department of Homeland Security will lose its federal funding and shutdown on Friday. The department, which in 2014 ran a budget that totaled $60,417,017,000, runs programs such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Customs, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Agency, among others. The potential shutdown would furlough all “non-essential” staff in the department, some 30,000 employees, and force the “essential” staffers, the other 200,000 employees, to work for no pay until the department receives its eventual funding.

In terms of day-to-day operations, we citizens may notice no apparent changes – TSA workers will still be scanning at the airport, the Coast Guard will still show up for duty, and the border and immigration services will all remain up and running. The issue, however, is that without the non-essential staff performing their duties, essential staff will have to shift into more administrative roles while also receiving no pay. Empirical evidence has shown that wage cuts reduce worker morale, not to mention the economic burden that is placed on workers during government furloughs. While they are a vacation for some, they can devastate others. We also cannot forget these are the very workers who spend their days preventing terrorist attacks, responding to natural disasters, protecting our borders and keeping our politicians safe.

Why would our national government purposefully de-fund and antagonize one of the most vital and protective assets in our country? To answer that question we need to first look at how we got to this point.

Last November, President Obama used the authority of his office to make several changes to the U.S. immigration policy. Using executive orders, he implemented deferred action programs for parents and children of U.S. residents, and expanded provisional waivers for temporary residency, among others, and essentially made it possible for millions of immigrants to avoid deportation.

Having bypassed the Republican authority, leaders in the House and Senate added a provision to the $1 trillion budget passed in December that the DHS would only be funded until Feb. 27.

The leaders in the House and Senate, Speaker John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell, tried to corral enough bipartisan support in the Senate to pass a DHS funding bill that includes provisions to gut President Obama’s immigration reform, but struggled to find enough votes to prevent a Democratic filibuster, which would lead to the shutdown of the department.

Senator McConnell, sensing that he would not get the votes and hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2013 government shutdown, proposed sending two separate bills to the floor – one that funds the DHS and one that guts President Obama’s policies. However, McConnell is having a hard time convincing his more conservative colleagues to vote on the separate bills, as they represent a sign of “giving in” to the Democrats.

The bottom line: same old, same old. Any of us that have watched “House of Cards” can only imagine Frank turning towards the camera and mumbling, “That’s politics.” But in all seriousness, haven’t we seen this before? In 2013, the government shut down over an argument about Obamacare, which ended up costing the United States over $20 billion. In that case, Obama’s approval ratings increased, and if it weren’t for the bungled rollout of healthcare.gov overtaking the headlines, the Republicans would have taken a major hit at the midterm elections.

If the Republicans want to roll the dice and defund Homeland Security, I believe they are taking a major risk. After the last shutdown, they received a majority of the blame and failed in repealing Obamacare. Also, with a Texas Judge already taking a legal stand against Obama’s actions, maybe the Republicans don’t actually have to do anything drastic in this situation and should just let the legal system do its job. The Republicans stand the most to lose here by playing the “blame game” The Democrats already lost their majority in the Senate and House of Representatives, and there is an open Presidential election in 2016. If they play hardball here and force a shutdown, they could risk antagonizing Latino voters, who played a major role in the last two elections, and thereby reduce their ability to vie for the Presidency.

Sam Fountain is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]