The impending shutdown of the US Department of Homeland Security at the end of the week may not immediately endanger the lives of most Americans. Over time, unpaid employees would eventually stop coming into work, but most people, except for the President as the Secret Service is part of DHS, would probably remain safe.
Ironically, the failure of the Department of Homeland security to unite all branches of the US national security apparatus under one branch as was originally envisioned following the September 11th attacks means this latest example of government dysfunction is not as big of a threat to US national security as it could have been.
Absent a major disaster, organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Communications System will not be missed. Unfortunately, the reality that the US Coast Guard , the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) , and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does create a major blockage for travelers and those in need of rescue on the water. In the long-term, the broad mission of DHS will mean a whole host of preventative measures to ward off everything from bug infestations to terrorist attacks will be put on hold.
Even if a shutdown is avoided or short-lived, the reality that Republicans are willing to risk a key element of America’s national security demonstrates how much the GOP has changed in recent years and how toxic the political system has become. Republicans have long portrayed themselves as the party of national defense. For decades, the political consequences of even challenging questionable defense spending helped create the bloated, inefficient disaster that is the Defense Department budget.
Republicans are now the ones who set in motion a shutdown by excluding DHS funding from the so-called “omnibus” spending bill that funded the rest of the government, just as they did when they agreed to defense budget cuts under the so-called Sequester then tried to force Democrats to accept all of their demands on the budget.
What this demonstrates is that the top priority of the GOP, above all the things Republicans “value,” is their unilateral control of public policy and their political status. The solution to dealing with policy disputes over issues like immigration enforcement and President Obama’s potential overreach is not a government shutdown brought on by the abuse of the national budget.
It is debate and compromise on public policy options. The sad truth is that Democrats and Republicans are fairly close to compromising on immigration reform, but the potential to gain some political advantage has come to negate the possibility that a sensible, effective compromise can be passed by Congress.
Although it is Democrats who are currently filibustering Republican efforts to fund the Department of Homeland Security, the largest impediment to sound policy is the Republicans, because they are the ones who are holding the country hostage in order to force their policy prescriptions onto the American People. Under normal circumstances, President Obama would be in the wrong for forcing his policy changes onto the American People, yet he finally acted after Congress failed to do their jobs for decades and Republicans decided they would do nothing to compromise with Democrats.
In many respects, the current fight over President Obama’s executive actions and the potential for a DHS shut down is a distraction from the failure of Congressional leaders to bypass disagreement and develop an effective compromise to America’s immigration issues. If after the 9/11 terrorist attacks Democrats had demonstrated the kind of reluctance to embrace the Patriot Act that they should have, Republicans would have hammered Democrats for “threatening” national security.
Rather than setting the government up for failure, the Republicans, as well as Democrats who are learning to be ever more uncompromising, need to recognize the campaign trail stops at the steps of Capitol Hill and governance beings, which means working with other elected officials, even when their policy views are different, and balancing the interests of all.
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