DHS funding dispute will likely lead to a shutdown

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 08:  The Department of Homeland Security main complex is shown January 8, 2010 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered DHS to

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 08: The Department of Homeland Security main complex is shown January 8, 2010 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered DHS to "aggressively pursue" advanced screening technology and to fix gaps in the way intelligence is distributed, analyzed and compared to watch lists used to identify potential threats against the U.S. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will lapse if the president and Congress cannot come to an agreement on a spending bill by Friday, February 27. In recent weeks, the agency has become a political pawn, with both parties using the issue of DHS funding as leverage to further its own goals.

The House sent a spending bill to the Senate more than a month ago which included funding for the Department of Homeland Security, but also denied funding to implement Obama’s executive amnesty, which would grant legal protection to over five million undocumented individuals already residing in the United States. Democrats in the Senate have resorted to employing the filibuster for the second time this year. The first filibuster was prompted by the Keystone pipeline, and now by the House spending bill.

Many politicians, including Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, have publicly asked President Obama to encourage Democrats to allow the House spending bill to come to a vote in the Senate. The president, however, has refused. Obama candidly stated that Democrat opposition to a bill which undercuts his executive amnesty is immaterial because the president would veto any such bill that made it to his desk.

While mainstream media sources, such as the New York Times, have been quick to label Republican actions as “laughable,” House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that he is fully willing to let funding for the DHS lapse. Control over the purse strings is Congress’s constitutionally-designated source of leverage in Washington and, after having already submitted a spending bill to the Senate, Speaker Boehner seems poised to exercise that congressional power.

Many congressional Republicans and Democrats have said a shutdown of the DHS could be devastating. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, has emphasized the increased threat to domestic security if funding for the agency were to lapse. Johnson has said that it is “indulging in a fantasy to believe you can shut down the Department of Homeland Security and there [will] be no impact to homeland security itself.” Others have argued that a shutdown is much less serious than widely believed. Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY) has noted “it’s not clear what the impact is because there are a lot of things that are supposedly funded anyway, so the impact may be smaller than we think.”

If the Department of Homeland Security were to be “shut down,” about fifteen percent of its 230,000 employees would be sent home. The other 85 percent are “essential” workers, meaning they would be expected to continue working as normal, but without receiving their biweekly paychecks. Secretary Johnson has termed this expectation of employees to continue working without receiving their salary until the budget crisis is resolved as “unfair” to workers. The last government shutdown (in October 2013) lasted 10 days, not long enough to seriously affect employees’ biweekly paychecks.

Whether or not a DHS shutdown would have serious consequences or not, it seems the agency has become part of new trend in which full or partial government shutdowns are the new norm.