This past week the biggest political news story was the battle between Republicans and Democrats in Washington over funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The arguments seem to boil down to this. From Republicans: President Obama has usurped powers reserved for Congress in the United States Constitution, in deciding what to do about the millions of foreign nationals who are here in the United States illegally. What he did in deciding not to initiate deportation and instead granting work permits to some that he selected, was unconstitutional. The Executive Branch needs money to carry out his illegal actions. Congress controls the purse. So, we refuse to fund DHS unless the unconstitutional part is excised from the overall funding bill. From Democrats: There are two different issues here, immigration and everything else the DHS does. We Democrats disagree about that constitutional interpretation of the President’s actions; we don’t agree that his actions were illegal. Further, our two parties aren’t going to decide which of us is right quickly, and it is a mistake to hold up all of DHS funding in the meanwhile. It’s a dangerous world out there, and DHS funding is needed to provide security to our country – after all, that’s why we have a Department of Homeland Security.
Let’s look at what agencies’ funding is actually being held up. In addition to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, who is it that won’t get paid if this remains unresolved? The U.S. Coast Guard, whose icebreakers are clearing harbors in New England. The U.S. Border Patrol, working to secure our borders with Mexico. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who are reacting to the severe winter weather affecting most of the country. The Transportation Security Agency (TSA), who screen every airline passenger at every airport in the country, making sure nobody smuggles explosives or weapons on board. The United States Secret Service, who are responsible for the integrity of our American currency. And that’s just a partial listing.
The big question – whether President Obama’s immigration actions are or are not constitutional – is being adjudicated. As of this writing, one court in Texas has ruled that part (not all) of those actions are illegal, and that decision is being appealed. During that appeal, the Executive Branch is not carrying out any of those actions which have been declared unconstitutional. If the final adjudication works out to support that view, then there will have been no reason to hold up funding; the policy changes the President is trying to carry out will not happen. If, on the other hand, the final adjudication goes the other way, there also will have been no reason to hold up funding; the Republican argument that the President has illegally usurped power will fail. Just because that argument has been made doesn’t make it so; it’s not up to either the Congress or the President ultimately to decide what is / is not constitutional, it’s up to the courts.
Our South Carolina congressional delegation has split on whether to hold up funding for all of those agencies, while the constitutionality issue is being adjudicated. Both of our South Carolina Senators have voted not to hold up that funding. Most (but not all) of our South Carolina Representatives have voted the other way. My opinion: it is just plain wrong to withhold the pay of our Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, FEMA, the TSA, and the Secret Service until the issue is decided. It’s not the Senate nor even the White House who will suffer in a pay freeze, it’s the hostages: those people working hard at sea, along our borders, and in our airports.
It is unlikely that the issue will be resolved by the time this OpEd is published, but it is likely to be resolved soon afterward. After it is all resolved, regardless of the resolution, we all need to remember which of our politicians decided to hold these federal workers hostage, and which had more sense – and more ethics – than that.