Price Statement at Subcommittee Markup of 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations Act
Mr. Chairman, I want to begin by commending you for leading another open, collaborative, and bipartisan process in constructing the appropriations bill the subcommittee is considering today. We will never agree on every issue or funding level, but you and your staff have consistently worked with our side of the aisle in good faith, and have accommodated members of both parties in many instances. So I will be supporting the chairman’s mark, and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.
We are fortunate to have a healthy allocation, especially as it compares to the budget request – which is $887 million lower. But more importantly, our allocation is healthy relative to the Department’s needs, with one major exception having to do with the classification of most of the National Protection and Programs Directorate as Defense spending.
While I am pleased that this subcommittee has an adequate allocation, we should not forget that a healthy allocation for this subcommittee comes in the context of wholly inadequate allocations for most of the other subcommittees. As a result, the majority does not invest adequately in National Science Foundation research in the Commerce-Justice-Science bill; virtually every housing and community development program is under-resourced; and a reasonable Labor-HHS-Education bill is not even an option given their 302(b) allocation.
At some point the House majority will need to accept the fact that our strength is measured not just in border personnel or the number of Joint Strike Fighters we purchase. It is measured in the number of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs we produce to drive the growth of cutting-edge industries; the advances of our research against dread diseases; and by making our infrastructure the envy of the world again. Yes, our strength and security can be judged by security along the border, but it can also be about the investments we make in our people and our economy in the 21st century.
Let me stress: while not every subcommittee allocation is equally inadequate, the problem goes beyond the merits of any subcommittee’s allocation, let alone individual line items. The House majority has stood in the way of the sort of broad budget agreement that balanced the budget in the 1990s. The House has failed to seriously address the main drivers of the deficit – tax expenditures and entitlement spending – returning again and again to appropriations, and especially critical domestic investments, to bear the whole brunt of deficit reduction. The result is a disaster for our economy and for the work of most of our appropriations subcommittees.
To be clear, I did support the budget agreement that established the top-line funding level because it gave us some certainty about how to proceed for both the current year and the coming year. It was better than sequestration or government shutdowns, but not by much. We are now seeing the reality of appropriating to an arbitrarily set number that does not realistically comport to what executive branch departments and agencies truly need to carry out their essential programs and activities. When the rallying cry of “fiscal discipline” becomes divorced from the reality of fiscal need our country is in trouble, and so is the institution in which we serve. So while I appreciate the majority’s plan to push forward with all twelve appropriations bills, we should not pretend that all twelve have the resources necessary to meet our challenges as a nation.
All of that being said, the mark before us does address several Democratic priorities, including maintaining the current funding levels for first responder and anti-terrorism grants, and for research and development activities in support of DHS operations. It also provides increases above the request for frontline personnel so that they can continue to conduct critical operations along our borders, protect our nation’s airports, seaports, and land ports of entry, coastal waters, and commercial airflights, and respond to natural disasters across the country. The bill provides the final funding increment to construct the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, which will provide significant new research capability to help prevent the introduction or spread of the most serious animal diseases.
In addition, the bill increases funding for critical Coast Guard and CBP Air and Marine acquisitions to recapitalize aging assets while also bringing the latest aviation and vessel technologies online to ensure our frontline personnel can operate more effectively—improving on the Administration’s request on each of these fronts.
On the budgeting and acquisition front, I fully endorse the Chairman’s efforts to push the Department to establish more rigorous, consistent, and comprehensive processes to ensure that budgets are based on mission requirements and fill critical capability gaps; that acquisitions are based on careful capability gap assessments and alternatives analyses, and are supported by coordinated research, development, testing and evaluation efforts; and that budgeting is carried out based on a comprehensive, department-wide perspective and acquisitions are based on department-wide priorities. Secretary Johnson is pushing hard to move the Department in this direction, and so the funding and the directives in the chairman’s mark will help to greatly facilitate the Secretary’s efforts while also holding the Department accountable for delivering.
I do have some concerns with this bill, notably some of the immigration provisions. As I have said for many years now, setting an arbitrary minimum of 34,000 ICE detention beds, especially in this fiscal climate, denies ICE the flexibility it needs to manage its enforcement and removal resources in response to changing circumstances, and the ability to use cheaper, alternative forms of supervision when appropriate. It is often forgotten that ICE detention is not a form of punishment for anyone; it is simply a means to ensure the removal of aliens who are flight risks or dangers to public safety if they are ultimately determined to be removable by an immigration judge. Setting an arbitrary minimum of detention beds is a double whammy of bad policy and wasteful spending.
I am also concerned that some of the other increases to ICE accounts above the current levels may be excessive when compared to other needs and priorities, not only in this bill but also in the subcommittee bills with insufficient allocations.
This bill also provides no funding for the new DHS headquarters already under construction, despite $73 million in the request. We have been told repeatedly by the Administration that deferring these investments will greatly increase the project’s costs, and I believe that they are correct.
In closing, I want to again underscore my appreciation for the efforts of the Chairman and his staff to work with the minority throughout this bill, and for his efforts to sustain our frontline homeland security operations.