OPINION: Protecting national security not a partisan issue

No matter what state we come from or which party we represent, every Member of Congress is entrusted with the sacred responsibility of keeping our nation safe. Unfortunately, on Friday, February 13, the House Republican Majority decided to leave Washington, D.C. for a week-long recess, even though there are only four more legislative days until the Department of Homeland Security shuts down. If DHS funding is allowed to expire at the end of February, 85 percent of essential DHS personnel, such as our front-line federal agents and law enforcement officers, will be required to work but without pay. Is this fair – to expect these dedicated Americans to put their lives on the line without pay and the ability to provide for their families? I think not. And I believe the American people would agree that this is unfair.

The Department of Homeland Security is currently trying to fulfill its mission under the uncertainty of a Continuing Resolution, which will expire on February 28. The Secretary of Homeland Security has warned that not having a 2015 appropriation threatens our national security. The lack of a full-year budget, he says, is delaying the issuing of preparedness and response grants to state and local governments. Without these grants, many of our first responders and other public safety personnel are at risk of not being fully prepared when responding to earthquakes, floods, fires, and even terrorist attacks.

Not having a full-year budget limits the Secretary’s efforts to make the department more effective in achieving its security missions, as well as his ability to aggressively implement his Southern Border and Approaches campaign. It also creates uncertainty about ICE’s ability to transfer unaccompanied children to the Department of Health and Human Services for humane treatment, and its capacity to detain and deport dangerous criminals. Moreover, operating under the lower allocations and uncertainty of a Continuing Resolution has the potential to delay and ultimately increase the cost of needed procurements, including the Coast Guard’s 8th National Security Cutter, the hiring of new Secret Service personnel, and the installation of badly needed security upgrades at the White House Complex to prevent fence-jumper intrusions.

While I do not question the commitment my Republican colleagues have to protecting our country, I do worry that some fail to fully appreciate the negative impact of inappropriately using the 2015 DHS Appropriations bill as leverage to reverse the President’s executive actions on immigration policy. If my Republican colleagues believe the President has overreached, the Constitution provides them a path of action through the authorizing committees rather than an appropriations bill.

On February 10th, I, with my colleague Congresswoman Nita Lowey, introduced H.R. 861. Our bill contains no poison pill riders or radical anti-immigrant language. It simply has the text of the bipartisan funding bill the House and Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittees negotiated last November, and funds the Department of Homeland Security through the end of Fiscal Year 2015. The bill is co-sponsored by all 188 voting House Democrats, and unlike the Republicans’ funding bill, it is capable of passing Congress and being signed by the President. All our bill needs is for Speaker Boehner to bring it to a vote in the House.

At a time when we are increasingly faced with the possibility of terrorist threats and natural disasters, I urge the Republican leadership to support H.R. 861, modeled after the clean, bipartisan, bicameral 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations bill negotiated in good faith last November. Protecting our national security should never be a partisan issue. It is time for Republicans and Democrats in Congress to come together to protect our country and keep the American people safe. To do otherwise is a failure in our most basic responsibility as Members of Congress.