Statements and Speeches

WASHINGTON – This evening, Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, took to the Senate floor to urge his colleagues in the Senate to quickly pass a clean appropriation bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the remaining fiscal year.

"Mr. President, in three and a half days, the Department of Homeland Security may well shut down. Let me repeat that. If Congress fails to act responsibly, in just three and a half days, just 78 hours from now, the Department of Homeland Security may shut down.

"I've spoken on the floor a number of times in recent weeks about the complex, consistent, and very real threats that our country faces. Over the past several months, we've seen horrific images of beheadings, mass murders, and brutal executions at the hands of the Islamic State. Some of our nation's largest companies and federal agencies have been victims of massive cyber attacks. This weekend, another terrorist group, the Al-Qaeda linked terrorist group in Somalia -- Al-Shabaab – vowed that they would seek revenge against the United States and cited the Mall of America in Minnesota as a potential target. And it’s not just these groups or the lone wolf terrorists they inspire that we need to worry about. Last fall, Ebola ravaged several nations in western Africa and even came to our shores, too. Threats from Mother Nature persist, as well. Communities and cities in some parts of our country are trying to get through a winter that has already broken snowfall records, and more records are likely to fall.

"Yet today, here in the United States Congress, there are some who are questioning whether to even fund the very agency charged with keeping us safe from these – and other -- evolving threats.

"This goes way beyond being irresponsible. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson nailed it recently when he said that it was, 'bizarre and absurd that we're even having this discussion.' I couldn't agree more. Is this really the message that we want to be sending to all those folks across the world who wish us harm? I hope not! But here we are, just days before this key agency could be forced to shut down, preparing for the worst. Some of our colleagues have said that it isn't a 'big deal' if the Department shuts down. I could not disagree more strongly. Here’s why.

"If we continue this behavior and fail to pass a clean DHS funding bill by midnight on Friday, this is what will happen at the Department of Homeland Security:

"Much of the Department's workforce – up to 200,000 people - will be expected to work without pay. That includes Border Patrol agents who protect our borders. It includes Coast Guard crews who patrol our waters. And, it includes TSA employees who help keep our skies safe. Many of these courageous men and women put their lives in harm's way every day. We expect them to continue doing that. We're just not going to pay them. That’s right. We want you to keep doing your job of protecting our nation. Eventually, those of us in Congress will get around to doing our job, and when we do, you’ll get paid. How would we like to be treated like that? Well, we wouldn't! I think it's shameful that we'd even contemplate treating some of our bravest federal employees like that. Shameful! Even worse, treating our people like this doesn’t make America any safer. It makes us less safe in the end. 

"Even if we avoid a shutdown but keep the Department running on a stop-gap continuing resolution, we prevent the men and women who work there from doing their jobs as efficiently and effectively as they could be and should be. As Secretary Johnson described it, putting the Department on another continuing resolution 'is a little like trying to drive cross-country with no more than five gallons of gas at a time and you don't know when the next gas station is. You can't plan. You can't plan except days and weeks at a time.'

"For example, if we pass another stop-gap continuing resolution, the Department won't be able to replace obsolete surveillance technology along high-risk areas of our border. We need to replace it. In addition, our nation will have significantly fewer resources to respond to any future surges of unaccompanied minors along our southwest border. Moreover, we will put construction of a badly-needed National Security Cutter for the Coast Guard on hold. Why does that matter? It matters because our Coast Guard fleet is aging and needs to be modernized. These ships are essential to stopping illegal activity off our coasts like drug and human trafficking and illegal immigration, some of it in vessels that travel at speeds in excess of 50 knots. And if that's not enough, try this. It's widely known that employee morale at the Department of Homeland Security is the lowest of all major federal agencies. Passing yet another continuing resolution won't make it any better. Quite the opposite. It will only get worse and threaten to degrade the performance of the people we rely upon perhaps more than any other to keep Americans safe.

"Let me say it again: this is not the way we should be treating the public servants who, in many cases, risk their lives to keep our nation and all Americans safe. And, it's no way to run a key national agency. Furthermore, as we've learned over the years, this kind of crisis budgeting costs taxpayers millions of dollars in lost productivity, hiring freezes, and contracts that will have to be renegotiated, not at lower costs to taxpayers. At higher costs!

"I understand some of my colleagues are concerned about the policies and procedures set forth in the President's executive actions on immigration. They have every right to express those concerns. But the Department of Homeland Security's budget is not the place to have this debate.

"A federal district court in south Texas recently examined what the President has put forward and blocked its implementation. Why can't we let this judicial process play out and do our job in the meantime by funding the Department of Homeland Security? Some of my Republican colleagues agree with this approach. My colleague Lindsey Graham said earlier this week, 'I hope Republicans will come together and back the court case, file a friend of the court brief with the court and fund DHS. I am willing and ready to pass a DHS funding bill and let this play out in court. The worst possible outcome for this nation is to defund the Department of Homeland Security given the multiple threats we face to our homeland.' My colleague John McCain recently said, 'It’s not a good idea to shut down the Department of Homeland Security… Now we have the perfect reason to not shut it down because the courts have decided, at least initially, in our favor.'

“Mr. President, I want to urge my Republican colleagues to go ahead and pursue this potential judicial remedy to address the concerns they have. But while you’re doing that, let’s bring a clean fiscal year 2015 appropriations bill for DHS -- the same bill Democrats and Republicans agreed to last December -- to the floor so we can give the Department the funding and the certainty it desperately needs.

"Regardless of what happens in the courts, at the end of the day, comprehensive immigration reform is the only way we can fix our broken immigration system for the long-term. It's the only way we can address the issues the President was trying to resolve in his executive action in a straightforward way, as we did in the last Congress. We owe the American people an honest and thorough debate on immigration reform. But let's do it the right way. We've shown that we can do it. Let’s do it again. And let's do it this year after approving a clean, full year funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

"Mr. President, those of us privileged to serve in the Senate were sent here by our constituents with a critical responsibility: to work together and pass laws that help our nation and our economy grow and thrive.

"This debate, or any debate for that matter, shouldn't be about one political party winning or losing. Because right now, the only people losing are the constituents we are supposed to serve. And as long as we continue to spend our time debating these manufactured-funding crises, our constituents – American taxpayers – will continue to lose. And we, as a Congress, lose too. I think American voters made it clear in last fall's elections. They're tired of this kind of behavior. I don't blame them either. They want us to do our jobs. 

"In closing, Mr. President, I should note that I am encouraged to hear that Senate Majority Leader McConnell now seems to be moving toward allowing a vote on a clean bill. I hope this change of course is the beginning of the end of this crisis for the Department of Homeland Security. Whatever we do, it is critical that we consider and pass a clean DHS funding bill first. At this point, every hour that goes by without one creates more uncertainty and more waste. After we do that, let's roll up our sleeves and get to work on a thoughtful, 21st century immigration policy for America; a policy that is fair, that will significantly reduce the nation's budget deficit, and that will strengthen the economic recovery now underway."