Vice Chairwoman Mikulski Floor on the Need to Pass a Clean DHS Funding Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, spoke on the Senate floor to urge her colleagues to pass the clean Department of Homeland Security appropriations funding bill (S. 272) that she and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced on Tuesday.
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as delivered:
“I come to the floor today as the Vice Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee to ask my colleagues to bring to the floor and pass a clean Homeland Security Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015.
“And this isn’t just me, Senator Barbara Mikulski, calling for this, but also the former heads of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under Presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama. As former Secretaries of Homeland Security, Governor Tom Ridge – the first such Secretary, Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano wrote a letter to Senators McConnell and Reid requesting they decouple DHS funding for fiscal year 2015 from a legislative response to President Obama’s executive action on immigration. They feel that tethering the two could lead to a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.
“We don’t want a shut down. They conclude it’s imperative that we ensure the Department of Homeland Security is ready, willing and able to protect the American people. To that end, Ridge, Chertoff and Napolitano closed their letter with, ‘we urge you not to risk funding for the operations that protect every American and to pass a clean DHS funding bill.’
“The Department of Homeland Security was established after the terrible attack on the United States of America on September 11, 2001. The Department of Homeland Security is a big agency, but protecting the homeland is a big task, and the DHS employees are on the job every day. 
“The Coast Guard is safeguarding our waterways. The Secret Service is not only protecting the President, the First Family and the Vice President, but also doing other important tasks. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are securing our borders against smugglers and illegal immigrants. There are cyber warriors and those who are protecting us against bio-threats and nuclear threats, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff working with first responders to help us when we face hurricanes and blizzards like we’re facing right now in the Northeast. They all work to protect us in the event of an attack on the homeland, to have readiness and response, shelters and other necessities.
“DHS also helps state and local responders get the resources they need to be able to respond at the local level. The FIRE grant program is so beloved in our communities, where they can apply for competitive grants to buy respiratory equipment, new fire trucks and other equipment they need. In my community, to come up with money for this equipment, they used do fish frys and pancake breakfasts. First responders need a government on their side. 
“Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security funding runs out on February 27. Now, let me give you the background. When Congress came back into session in September, facing the fact that we had to have a continuing funding resolution (CR) to get us through the start of the fiscal year, Congress passed legislation to do so. Then on December 13, we passed the Omnibus. 
“We passed an Omnibus bill for every single agency with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security. Every single agency from the Department of Defense to the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Education to the National Weather Service to the National Institutes of Health – all of these important programs and agencies – were funded through the fiscal year. 
“But we put Homeland Security on a CR because there was an intense and very prickly concern over the President’s Executive Order on immigration. So rather than hold up funding for the United States of America over temper tantrum politics on Obama’s Executive Order on immigration, we went to a CR on Homeland Security. The Homeland Security CR was supposed to take us to February 27, where wiser heads – and now complete control by the Republican Party – would be able to move this for full funding.
“So where are we? Well, during that time in December, as Chair of the Appropriations Committee with my Vice Chairman Senator Richard Shelby, Senator Dan Coats and Senator Mary Landrieu on the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, we came up with a fiscal framework. So did the House. So the money that we’ve put into the clean bill that Senator Shaheen, now the Ranking Member of the DHS Subcommittee, and I have introduced, is the funding that Homeland Security says it needs. And we arrived at it on a bipartisan basis.
“If, in fact, we are allowed to bring up a clean bill, we’ve agreed on the money. There is no dispute over the money. We have looked very carefully at it. We’ve worked on a bipartisan basis. We’ve worked on a bicameral basis. We’re ready to go.
“What will slow us down is if we get into an intense debate on immigration and riders to try and stop the activities of President Obama. I strongly recommend that my colleagues not play politics with the security of the United States of America.
“We were all horror stricken at what happened in Paris. We were just repulsed with what is going on with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). We’re very concerned about lone wolf attacks. The Chair of the authorizing committee on Homeland Security in the House has said, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘Oh, they’re coming here. They’re on their way. We’ve got to be ready.’ Well, one of the ways we’ve got to be ready is to make sure that Homeland Security is funded, and that they’re not worried about shutdown, showdown, slamdown politics over a fight on immigration.
“Should we have a discussion on immigration? You betcha. Should we even have an outright, robust debate on it? I’m all for it. But leave Homeland Security alone. Pass the money bill. If you disagree with the money, argue over that. But if you want to fight over immigration policy, that’s another debate for another day in another way.
“The nation faces growing threats. Americans are endangered at home and abroad. Terrorists are threatening us with bombs and guns. There are lone wolves in Ottawa, and cyber criminals with backing from nation states and organized crime. In terms of the Secret Service, we need reform. We have fence jumpers at the White House and drones landing on the White House lawn. In the face of these threats, the Republican majority’s response is to hold up the funding for Homeland Security to pick a fight with the President over immigration.
“Uncertainty undermines security. Let’s give the agency certainty of funding. We’re four months into the fiscal year and another continuing funding resolution would be their fifth CR. That’s no way to run an agency so big and so complicated.
“Senator Coats and Senator Landrieu and our House colleagues worked so well together. They provided the necessary reform and cooperation to come up with the bill. They provide resources for DHS with a total funding of $39.7 billion - an increase of over $400 million from the fiscal year 2014 level. We could pass that today. We could pass it on Monday. We could pass it on Tuesday. All of my Democratic colleagues and I wrote a letter to Senator McConnell asking him to schedule an immediate vote on Homeland Security funding. Well, let’s see where we go on that.
“What we have here is the clean bill offered by Senator Shaheen, now the Ranking Member on the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Appropriations, and me. We have a compromise funding bill that gives certainty to the people who work on the front lines to secure the nation – whether it’s securing the border, building capacity to respond to agriculture and biological threats, replacing aging nuclear detection equipment or helping our Coast Guard build their cutter so that they can protect us against drug runners, pirates and terrorists.
“More than any other specific increase, enacting a clean Homeland Security bill shows what Congress and the nation value. We value security and we value the men and women who work every day to provide us with that security. Uncertainty jeopardizes security. I urge my colleagues to put our money where our mouths are, to enact a clean Homeland Security bill and to not get into this whole debate on immigration.
“Mr. President, I look forward, as we wrap up the debate on the Keystone Pipeline that we then take up Homeland Security. And we take up a clean bill.”