Burlington Free Press: Welch rips GOP over Homeland Security budget
As a Friday federal bill deadline approaches, Rep. Peter Welch is criticizing Republican leaders for balking on presenting and passing a budget for the Department of Homeland Security not tied to immigration reforms.
Welch, D-Vt., said the Republican party's leaders are "holding hostage" the budget to block President Barack Obama from using his executive authority in implementing immigration reforms announced last year. Welch met members of Vermont media at the Burlington International Airport Tuesday morning, and he called on Congress to move past the issue for now to pass a "clean budget."
A budget must be passed by midnight on Friday for the department to avoid running out of money, Welch said. Welch urged House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to present a new budget without immigration reform provisions.
If Congress fails to meet the deadline, Welch said at least 200,000 employees nationwide would be required to work without pay, and 30,000 more would be placed on furlough.
More than 2,500 workers in Vermont would be affected if a budget does not pass, half of whom work for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to data provided by Sen. Bernie Sanders' office. TSA aviation security screeners, agents at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Coast Guard members would also be affected.
A shutdown could prove difficult for workers whose families depend on the job paychecks, Welch said. If the shutdown did occur, employees would eventually be reimbursed after a budget was passed, he added.
"These folks work hard and we depend on them," Welch said. "How in the world can Congress expect people to do their job that we assign them and we don't pay them? This is hard on their families, and it does raise some security questions. How long before the edges start fraying on some of these agencies?"
Welch said immigration is an important, but separate, issue from the DHS budget. Members of Congress have used the tactic before, holding "hostage things that are absolutely essential to the functioning of our safety" to influence decisions on other topics, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said later Tuesday he would allow a vote on a Homeland Security funding bill without any immigration provisions attached, USAToday reported. McConnell would then seek a separate vote on Friday that would allow senators to go on record in support or opposition to Obama's executive actions on immigration.
On Monday, Senate Democrats had blocked a DHS spending bill, objecting to the House-passed amendments that would cut off all funding for Obama's immigration programs, according to a report by USAToday. Boehner has said he would be willing to allow funding to run out, and that it is up to Senate Democrats to "get their act together," he said in an interview last weekend on Fox News.
Welch said if a clean budget was presented, it would easily pass with bipartisan support. However, Republicans are "resorting to shutdown tactics," he said.
This is the second time in 18 months that the DHS has faced shutdown, Welch said. Sanders, I-Vt., also released a statement Monday, calling on Republicans to pass a long-term funding bill.
"Terrorist acts are not only a threat to Paris and Denmark, they are a threat to the United States," Sanders said. "We need the Homeland Security Department to be strong and vigilant, not shut down because Republicans disagree with the president over immigration."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. called the situation "another needless, made-in-Washington crisis."
"If there's another debate to be had about immigration policy, let's have that debate, out in the open, and without threatening our homeland security operations in the meantime," Leahy said in a statement.
The president of the National Treasury Employees Union praised Welch for speaking out on Tuesday. The union represents 25,000 DHS employees, 300 of whom work in Vermont. Union President Colleen Kelley said many of the workers are members of the middle class.
"They have everyday bills to pay, along with mortgages, college tuition and expenses for their children and support for elderly parents," Kelly said in a statement. "Many live paycheck to paycheck like many Americans. They want to do their jobs. That is why they chose federal service in the first place."