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A breakthrough on DHS funding: Four initial thoughts

The House of Representatives has now passed the “clean” Senate-passed version of the DHS appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015. The bill will now go to President Obama for signature, and the looming threat of a partial shutdown of DHS will be averted. Importantly, the bill that is moving forward is a full appropriations bill, and not another continuing resolution, so new priorities for Fiscal Year 2015 will be funded.

A few initial thoughts on this outcome:

First, it shows that trying to use DHS appropriations as a bargaining chip toward desired policy outcomes is a losing strategy, for either party and regardless of the relative merits of the desired policy outcomes. Just as it would be unwise for either political party to threaten Defense appropriations over disagreements on military strategy, it is also unwise to try to use DHS funding as a bargaining chip in a broader debate on immigration policy or any other DHS-related policy issue. The potential risks of a DHS shutdown – in terms of a degradation of the Department’s frontline activities, and the economic and social impact of not paying employees – are too great, especially during a period of a heightened terrorist threat.

Second, I hope that this outcome does not reduce the imperative for further action by this Congress on immigration and border security. There are significant national and economic security issues that legislation can help to address, and I still believe that there is a middle ground where a common-sense deal can be struck that would receive the support of 70-80% of the members of the House and Senate.

Third, I think that the effort by Secretary Johnson and his team to address this issue, and make the case for funding DHS, has perhaps been the most effective public relations campaign in the twelve years of the Department’s existence. The Secretary has been ruthlessly on message about this issue, and has factually made the case about the potential impact of a shutdown on the Department’s operations and on DHS’s support for state and local responders. He has managed to do this without being adversarial, which likely paid dividends in terms of garnering Congressional support for the pending outcome.

Fourth, I hope that the resolution of this issue clears the path for the Senate to finally confirm Russell Deyo to be the Under Secretary for Management at DHS. I wrote in mid-February about the status of his nomination, which has now been stalled on the Senate floor for nearly four months, perhaps due in part to gridlock related to this broader funding fight. Deyo has broad bipartisan support, and with DHS appropriations now resolved, the Senate should try to approve his nomination this week.