Recently, the risk that America’s Department of Homeland Security would be deprived of ongoing funding by Congress was only narrowly averted. The purpose of the present sample research paper provided by Ultius is to discuss this situation in greater depth.
Financial woes in the Department of Homeland Security
In general, it can be suggested that although the threat of defunding the federal government’s programs seems ridiculous from the layperson’s perspective, this has in fact always been a tactic through which Congress has been able to establish a check on the executive branch. This issue will be examined in four parts:
- A description of the actual events themselves
- Considering the underlying issue that caused the situation to arise in the first place
- A conceptual analysis of why the underlying issue would cause this kind of danger regarding funding to arise
- A reflection on prospects for the future funding of the Department of Homeland Security
The fact that the issue has been resolved for the time being has been significantly influenced by the fact that the judicial branch is already exercising a check, which makes a legislative check unnecessary. It is unclear what will happen if this check fails in the future and the Republicans once more want to block funding.
Description of events threatening Homeland funding
The primary issue at hand here is one of funding. As Hughes has pointed out:
“A budget fight this early in a new Congress is the result of unfinished business from last year, when Republicans deferred action on homeland-security money while agreeing to fund the rest of the government through fiscal 2015” (paragraph 10).
In other words, this issue was related to the issue of the more general shutdown of the federal government that was all over the news a few months ago. Congress managed to resolve that situation before it began to produce negative consequences; but it only did so by deferring the specific question of funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Now, that issue returned as a result of the approach of the deadline for approving ongoing funding for the department; and the risk thus returned of the shutdown not of the federal government as a whole this time but rather of this specific department (or at any rate, all but the most essential of its services). The following statement, for example, can be found on a webpage of the Department of Homeland Security itself that seems to have not been updated in light of the recent resolution of the issue:
“Due to a lapse in funding, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may only continue ‘exempt’ activities such as law enforcement and maritime protection. The Department’s contingency plan outlines procedures for an orderly shutdown of non-exempt functions during a lapse in funding or appropriations” (paragraph 1).
Again, there was a very real risk this was going to happen.
Cooperation between parties to ensure funding for Homeland Security
The situation of non-funding was averted through as a result of the Republicans, led by House Speaker Boehner, finally agreed to cooperate with the Democrats in passing legislation that would continue funding for the Department of Homeland Security. As Montesano has put it:
“The Speaker had already tried everything else. Boehner stomped his feet and threw a tantrum—right up until, literally, the midnight hour on Friday. At the last moment, he recruited Democrats to help him pass a one-week extension of DHS funding. The President signed the extension 10 minutes before the funding was set to expire” (paragraphs 2-3).
A bill extending funding for the next several months was then passed shortly thereafter on the following Tuesday, the 3rd of March. In part, this occurred because the Senate refused to consider the matter further, which implicitly placed the issue on the shoulders of the House. At this point, Boehner could have either chosen to cooperate with the Democrats, or to continue with a kind of futile resistance that a senior Republican Senator himself has compared to being
“as dumb as a rock” (Parker, paragraph 10).
In any event, President Obama was thus able to sign a bill that would ensure ongoing funding for the Department of Homeland Security; this occurred on the 4th of March, right after Congress finally passed the relevant legislation. This means that funding for the Department of Homeland Security is safe for the time being for the next half a year, up until September 2015 (see Kamisar).
The underlying issue
At this point, it may be fair to wonder why this funding issue even emerged in the first place; after all, it would seem that no one—neither Democrats nor Republicans—could possibly stand to gain from a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. The answer to this question can be found in the recent immigration reform announced by President Obama.
Obama’s immigration policy
In November 2014, Obama moved to extend, by executive order, amnesty for undocumented immigrants within the United States; this was an expansion of a program that he had already initiated back in 2012. According to Krogstad and Passel, this would extend protection against deportation to a total of 3.9 million undocumented immigrants, on top of the 1.5 million who were already protected by the initial program. This executive order has been strongly opposed by Republicans both due to ideological disagreement and to the conviction that it is unconstitutional to use executive authority to make such sweeping reforms regarding immigration policy.
Republican opposition to immigration reform and refusal to back Homeland Security activities
The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for the implementation of immigration policy. Therefore, the conflict regarding funding for the Department fundamentally had to do with Republicans striving to pressure Democrats into not funding Obama’s new program. The main idea was that Republicans refused to pass the funding bill unless Democrats would agree to an amendment to the effect that the money would not be used in this way. The Democrats would only accept a bill that had no such provision, whereas the Republicans would only accept a bill that had such a provision. Therefore, a gridlock emerged, along with the real risk that the Department of Homeland Security would not receive ongoing funding at all.
Holdout proves fruitful for Democrats
Ultimately, this eventuality was avoided primarily because Republicans (or at any rate, enough Republicans) in the House finally agreed to compromise and give the Democrats what they wanted: a bill with no provision against funding for Obama’s new program regarding amnesty for undocumented immigrants. One factor that likely inspired the Republicans to cooperate on this matter is the fact that Obama’s immigration program has essentially already been put on hold until further notice.
Challenges to immigration reform in the courts
This is due to a ruling by a federal judge in Texas that prevented the implementation of the program on the grounds of unconstitutionality (see Zucchino). The relevant injunction was filed on the 16th of February and presents one of the greatest challenges to immigration; it will not be possible to implement the immigration program until this matter has made its way up through the court system; and if the program is found to be unconstitutional at a higher level, then it will not be implemented at all.
In other words, there is no real need for the Republicans to oppose Obama’s immigration program at the legislative level, since it is already being significantly challenged at the judicial level. For at least the short term, whether the funding bill had a provision against the immigration program or not, the practical implications would be exactly the same. Such considerations surely contributed to the Republicans’ decision to cooperate with the Democrats, at least for the time being.
Conceptual analysis of the defunding of the Department of Homeland Security
In truth, the kind of conflict surrounding funding for the Department of Homeland Security would seem to resemble nothing so much as the game of “chicken”. That is, if the Department had actually been defunded, this would have been highly embarrassing for both the Republican and the Democratic parties, and it would have reinforced the reigning American perception that Congress and two party politics is pretty much good for nothing.
However, the conflict proceeded on the basis of the assumption that one or the other of the parties would eventually have more to lose from the failure to reach a workable resolution than the other. In this case, the Republicans conceded the game to the Democrats; and it would seem that this was primarily done out of the awareness that Republicans would have more to lose than the Democrats.
Reasons for Republican concession
The main reasons that can be cited for this are as follows:
- Democrats had the natural high ground on the matter, insofar as they were to ones arguing for a “clean” bill without any riders.
- Republicans, on the other hand, were attempting to conflate funding for the Department of Homeland Security with their disagreement with Obama’s immigration policy; and insofar as the logical link is neither necessary nor obvious, this would have seemed to the average American like an unreasonable position on the part of Republicans.
- To an extent and at least for the time being, the Republicans have already achieved what they wanted; Obama’s immigration policy is not going to be implemented before the issue of its constitutionality is resolved in the courts.
This means that Republicans would have essentially risked “losing face” for no good reason in particular. Therefore, it makes sense that they agreed to pass a clean funding bill for at least the time being.
A resultant dim view of congress
Of course, from the outside, when this kind of conflict occurs, it seems like Congress is simply incapable of getting anything done. It is perhaps worth considering, however, whether there is some place for such tactics in the democratic process itself. For example, it actually is the role of the legislative branch (as well as the judicial branch) to exercise a check on the executive branch; such a system of checks and balances was intentional built into the federal governmental system by the Framers of the Constitution themselves.
In this context, the power of Congress to refuse to fund a program proposed by the President is in fact a fundamental means through which the legislative branch can exercise a check against the executive branch. Within the context of the two-party system that characterizes the present-day legislative branch, the practical use of this check can begin to seem unreasonable; but at the conceptual level, it can be stated that there is nothing the matter with the exercise of the check as such.
As has been pointed out above, the current bill ensures that the Department of Homeland Security will be funded until September of this year. It is unclear, however, what will happen at that point as it seems we will have to wait for President Obama’s budget proposal. Insofar as the underlying issue regarding immigration has not been resolved in a way favorable to Republicans before that time, there is a strong possibility that this very same issue will re-emerge in about half a year from now. Again, this is because one of the main factors driving the Republicans’ willingness to compromise on this occasion was the fact that at the pragmatic level, they had effectively already gotten what they wanted.
If Obama’s immigration program is either still tied up in the courts or has been deemed unconstitutional come September, then ongoing Republican cooperation can be expected; but if not, then the Republicans may find it worthwhile to attempt to undermine the immigration program at the policy level once more. However, if executive power transfers to Donald Trump and his xenophobic views on immigration, it is likely that this issue will lie dormant for quite some time.
Department of Homeland Security. “Lapse in Funding for DHS.” 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2015. .
Dumain, Emma. “House Agrees to Fund Homeland Security Department.” Roll Call. 3 Mar. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2015. .
Hughes, Siobhan. “GOP Options Narrow on Homeland Security Funding.” Wall Street Journal. 2 Mar. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2015. .
Kamisar, Ben. “Obama Signs Funding Bill for Homeland Security.” The Hill. 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2015. homeland-security>.
Krogstad, Jens Manuel, and Jeffrey S. Passel. “Those from Mexico Will Benefit Most from Obama’s Executive Action.” Pew Research Center. 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. .
Montesano, Deborah. “Boehner Suffers Embarrassing Loss in Fight to Fund Homeland Security.” Reverb Press. 3 Mar. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2015. .
Parker, Ashley. “Senate Democrats Block Joint Negotiations on Homeland Security.” New York Times. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. democrats-block-joint-negotiations-on-homeland-security-funding.html?_r=0>.
Zucchino, David. “Texas Judge Threatens Justice Department over Obama’s Immigration Plan.” Los Angeles Times. 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. .