The deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security looms large today, as House Republicans dig in against President Obama’s executive order on immigration. To be sure, there is a lot more at stake than just immigration policy, but that is the main sticking point for the GOP.
DHS covers a huge chunk of the federal government. It includes all of the immigration and border control agencies, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Secret Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and a few others. The annual budget is just over $60 billion per year. Most of the agencies were already in existence prior to the creation of DHS, but following 9/11 were all combined under one umbrella with a cabinet level position under President George W. Bush. So how would a shutdown of DHS actually impact the nation?
The most direct and immediate effects would be felt by employees of several of the agencies. Some 30,000 of the 240,000 workers under the umbrella would be furloughed. The ones who would remain working would be either deemed “essential” or otherwise paid in a manner that does not require congressional funding. These 30,000 employees would not be able to return to work until an agreement could be reached. Some of the remaining employees would have to remain working without pay as well.
Most Americans would likely not even notice the shutdown, if it occurs. The furloughed employees would be primarily those involved in support roles or in departments that are deemed “non-essential.” These include programs like E-Verify, used for checking legal immigrant status for employment.
The immigration policy that the president ran around congress with has already been halted with a federal court injunction, so the political posturing by Republicans is just that-posturing. While Obama seems to have overstepped his bounds by a wide margin on immigration, the policy itself is sound. But good policy enacted by bad law is useless when it can’t be enforced.
The Senate did manage to squeak out a funding bill today and send it to the House, but House Republicans are much more difficult to get around. The bill that will be voted on today would only be a three week extension, however, which would give a light cushion to make a compromise, but certainly isn’t of much long term use.
The Republican party has become increasingly fractured in recent years, with Tea Party activists butting heads with the establishment, and a strong Libertarian movement erupting that threatens to split the party completely. Adding to that are Democrats who have engaged in blocking several bills in both houses, mostly on the grounds that they don’t include some of their pet projects.
In the end, a compromise bill is becoming increasingly hard to come by, but the GOP can’t afford another shutdown politically. Even if they are in the right overall in a legal sense, and even a political sense, most Americans want a cohesive immigration policy that is much closer to the president’s than their own. And every time a government shutdown occurs it’s the Republicans who take the heat, not the president.
Whether or not Americans even notice the DHS shutdown, it will likely dominate the headlines for awhile. And it will most certainly become a campaign issue in next year’s presidential races. The only thing left to do is to sit back and see if Republicans can reach a compromise with congressional Democrats, the president and, perhaps most difficult, within their own ranks.