GOP Clueless on How to Fund DHS

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma is the Deputy Majority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He’s been on the floor of the House for the last hour insisting that the House Republicans have fully funded the Department of Homeland Security for the next year and that they have no further obligations to do anything to prevent that department from running out of money. He hopes the Senate will pass something and they can take it to conference to hammer out the differences.

This is a combination of spin and happy talk. The truth is that the Senate Republicans cannot pass anything but a clean bill due to Democratic filibusters, and the House can’t pass a clean bill because their own members won’t vote for one.

Despite all the talk, Congress is no closer to solving the DHS funding conundrum. Republicans in both chambers openly admitted they are clueless on how to avert a shutdown at the DHS, slated for Feb. 28.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) told The Hill. “We should not cut off funding for the Department of Homeland Security.”

“Clueless” is actually an apt term here. They do not have a plan, and any obvious plans don’t have the votes.

The root of the problem is pretty simple to understand. The Republicans want to take away the Executive Branch’s ability to set its own deportation policies and they want to insert that language in the DHS appropriations bill. The Democrats will never allow that, and the president would veto the bill if they did. So, the Republicans will either cave in on the issue or the department will run out of money. The House Republicans want the Senate Republicans to cave and the Senate Republicans want the House Republicans to cave.

“I think the Speaker’s position is, and our position is, that the House has already acted. It’s time for the Senate to act,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.).

“I don’t hear any deviation among my colleagues,” added Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.).

“The Democrats in the Senate have a calculated strategy to deny that funding … so the ball’s in the Senate’s court, and more particularly, the Democrats in the Senate,” he said.

There’s an effort to place the blame for this impasse on the Senate Democrats, but the Republicans are firmly in control of both chambers of Congress and have the responsibility to fund the government. And they know it.

Democrats hammered the GOP Wednesday in speeches on the House floor on the possibility of a shuttered DHS. They are very confident Republicans will cave and pass a clean bill. And if they don’t, Democrats say the public will blame the GOP — as it did during the 2013 government shutdown.

One senior GOP senator leaned in and whispered to The Hill: “Of course Republicans will get blamed” for a shutdown.

I don’t like the way concerns about terrorism are used as a cudgel to shut down debate in this country, but it’s inevitable that the Republicans will be blamed if anything bad should happen while the Department of Homeland Security is trying to operate without funds. In fact, if I weren’t at least a little bit concerned about this lack of funding leading us to let our guard down, I’d really be enjoying the spectacle of watching the Republicans trying and failing to govern this country.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.