Vice Chairwoman Mikulski Urges the Senate to Consider the Clean DHS Funding Bill, S. 272

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 once again urge her colleagues to take up and pass the clean Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations funding bill (S. 272) that she and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced.
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as delivered:
“I rise to talk about the Department of Homeland Security and the necessity to fund it. Earlier today, the President submitted to Congress a document for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). I take the President’s request very seriously. I look forward to the analysis that will be done by the Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee, and during debate on the floor.
“But why did the President send it and why did many in the Congress call for it? It’s because everybody says we’ve got to do something about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). And you know what? I think we do have to do something about ISIL, which is a ghoulish, barbaric terrorist group. There is no doubt that there has to be an international effort to strike them from the planet and that the United States has to be part of it.
“When we talk about ISIL we realize the need to have a strong, robust counterterrorism effort. And if we're going to fight terrorism, we must fund the agency that has a principal responsibility for protecting the homeland. The Department of Defense protects us against threats outside our borders. But we also have to protect the homeland, whether it’s against cybersecurity threats or other terrorist activity or other dangers that come to our country.
“So why, after two weeks, do we continue to have the clean Department of Homeland Security appropriation bill for fiscal 2015 just sitting here? We’re ready to vote on it. This is the money that was agreed to by both sides of the aisle and both sides of the dome while I was the Appropriations Committee Chair.
“When we worked on the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, it was the will of the Congress that we would fund all government agencies but the Department of Homeland Security. We put DHS on a continuing funding resolution through the end of February 27 because there were members in both chambers who were cranky about the fact that President Obama exercised executive authority on immigration.
“The people holding up the entire funding for the Department of Homeland Security because President Obama issued an executive order on immigration are the very people who are usually criticizing him for being a weak leader. ‘Oh, where’s President Obama? Why doesn’t he take strong and decisive action?’ But when the President takes strong and decisive action, they not only don’t like it, they’re willing to hold up the entire funding for the Department of Homeland Security over it. If we really want to fight terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security, which we created after the horrific 9/11 attack, needs to be funded.
“I’m here today to urge the Senate to please pass a clean funding bill to protect the nation from terrorism and cybersecurity threats – which are mounting every day – and to help our communities respond to other threats.
“Now, I believe that immigration does deserve a debate. I’m not arguing with that, nor would I ever want to stifle Senators’ ability to speak on topics that they have strong beliefs and deeply held views on. But let’s move immigration to a separate debate from funding DHS.
“Last Congress, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill. It went to the House and it sat there and it sat there and after a while it sat there some more and then it died as that session did.
“The President, frustrated that the House of Representatives refused to take up an immigration bill and debate it through its committees and on the floor, acted through an executive order. So my view is, let’s bring up immigration. Let’s move our comprehensive immigration bill again with full and ample debate, and full and ample amendments. Then maybe the House will actually get around to talking about immigration instead of talking about Obama.
“Three times last week the Senate rejected a procedural vote to take up the House’s homeland security funding bill. So people may ask, ‘Senator Barb, why did you do that?’ Well, I voted not to delay but to move on. We Senate Democrats tried to move a clean homeland security funding bill. What does that mean? It means we focused only on the money. We said that we did not want to have the five poison pill immigration riders that are in the House bill. We wanted to be able to take those out, because the President was very clear that if we send him a bill that includes the five poison pill immigration riders, he will veto it.
“In the end when all is said and done, more is getting said than done. I urge the Senate, before we go out for Presidents’ Day recess, let’s pass this bill. Tomorrow we are going to vote to confirm the Secretary of Defense, Dr. Ashton Carter. He’s gone through the process, been reported out of committee, so I look forward to voting for him. But why are we going to move so fast to confirm Dr. Carter? Because we need a Department of Defense. We’ve got to fight for America. We’ve got to stand up for America. We’ve got to be muscular, ready to deal with bad guys. I agree with that. I salute our members of the military who are out there every day on the front lines, and their families who so lovingly support them.
“But if we’re going to rush to confirm a Secretary of Defense – which we should – shouldn’t we also be rushing to complete our work to fund the Department of Homeland Security? America should have deep pockets to fight terrorism, but if we don’t hurry to pass a clean bill, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson will have empty pockets. We could pass the clean bill tomorrow, and we should.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s mission is to protect America from terrorism, to help communities respond to all threats, from terrorism to natural disasters. We’re talking about the Transportation Security Administration, who protects our airports. We’re talking about Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who are out there protecting our borders and dealing with immigrants. Cyber warriors are securing our networks while others are dealing with bio and nuclear threats. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is supporting and working with state and local first responders, firefighters and EMS in states so they can be ready to respond to a local disaster or a terrorist attack.
“We need to be able to pass this bill. The Department of Homeland Security funding runs out on February 27. In my view, instead of running the clock, we should move this bill. I believe it could pass tomorrow, and that we could get our job done. But no, we’re all going to go back to our home states, we’re going to tell everybody how they’ve got a government on their side, how they can count on us to fight for America. But the way you fight for America is to stop fighting with each other and find a sensible center, and move this bill forward.
“I believe that on both sides of the aisle people are patriots. I believe on both sides of the aisle people want to defend America. So to both sides of the aisle: let’s come together, right down the middle, and let’s find a way to move this bill forward. We’ll have a debate on immigration, because I don’t want to stifle or stiff arm it, but let’s move this forward first. Let’s stand shoulder to shoulder and do our job to fund the agency that has the principal responsibility of protecting the homeland.”