Weekly Columns

Congress is facing an April 28 deadline to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. This debate should have wrapped up last September, but Congress kicked the can down the road once again by approving another continuing resolution (CR). 

While this approach to funding the government has unfortunately become business as usual, it’s bad practice. It’s inefficient and hinders our ability to rein in spending and plan for the future because it maintains prior year funding levels for inefficient or outdated programs. 

This chronic budget uncertainty makes it difficult for federal agencies to plan ahead. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security I’ve heard the concerns of the Department of Homeland Security with the CR approach to funding and how it hampers our ability to defend against national security threats.

The answer for Congress to pass individual bills each year. This is the best way to reduce government spending, balance our budget and prioritize the needs of federal agencies. Last year, committee members reported all 12 appropriations bills out of committee. Unfortunately, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle refused to advance these bills for an up-or-down on the floor.

Passing appropriations bills is vital to our national security.

The fiscal year 2017 Homeland Security Appropriations bill would ramp up border security and immigration enforcement. It would fully fund the department’s immigration enforcement needs by providing hundreds of millions of dollars more than a CR. This would provide agencies like Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the resources and manpower to enforce all of our nation’s immigration laws and could end the ‘catch and release’ policy that forces officers to let apprehended illegal immigrants leave custody as they wait for their deportation hearing. These are priorities for President Trump. Instead, a CR continues to fund the priorities of the Obama administration, and provides up to 10,000 fewer detention beds than in use today.

The Trump administration has also taken steps to maintain safety of air travel. Congress can, and should, help ensure the security of air travel by passing the DHS appropriations bill. 

There has been a four percent increase in airline passenger traffic this fiscal year. It’s critical that we continue to provide the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with the staffing and technology resources it needs to alleviate massive security lines at airports and ensure the safety of air travelers.

Under a CR, TSA is not likely to keep pace with the demands of passenger traffic and the reliability needed to screen passengers and cargo as the volume and variety of threats to air travel continue to evolve. 

We must also strengthen our nation’s cybersecurity. These attacks are too often news headlines. Last fiscal year, more than 30,000 incidents of cyber intrusion occurred on U.S. government networks. 

Our federal agencies need the tools to develop and implement critical cyber protections. A CR would underfund efforts already in place to help federal agencies secure their networks.

I’m hopeful that later this month funding levels for important programs like these will be approved by Congress based on the fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills instead of last year’s priorities. But going forward I will urge my colleagues to recommit to responsible funding by passing appropriations bills.