Why Congress Isn’t That Worried About a DHS Shutdown

Because you’re not.

A Border Patrol officer inspects vehicles at a checkpoint near the Mexican border at the town of Tombstone, Arizona on April 21, 2010.
National Journal
Feb. 24, 2015, 3 p.m.

There’s a reason an increasing number of congressional Republicans say they’re willing to let the Department of Homeland Security shut down this weekend: Their constituents don’t care.

For all the fearmongering and talk of emboldening the nation’s enemies — particularly by officials at the Department of Homeland Security — members say they’re not hearing much about the issue from their constituents. Compared to the sign-waving and phone-banking surrounding the last shutdown, the uproar about the potential shuttering of DHS is nearly nonexistent.

Senate staffers on both sides of the aisle say their phones are not ringing off the hook. Two aides said they heard much more about the Keystone pipeline bill — which would have created just about 4,000 jobs, per the State Department, but was vetoed by President Obama on Tuesday — than they have about DHS.

And lawmakers just returned from a weeklong recess having heard little on the subject back home.

“I was all over the state, went to Lincoln Day dinners, did all of those things “¦ and you know, I talked to hundreds of people. But as I stand here, I can’t recall one ordinary person who raised this issue,” Sen. James Risch of Idaho said after returning to Washington on Monday after a week at home.

Risch said that he believes the DHS crisis is much more of an issue for Washington and members of the media than for his constituents. “These kinds of things, unless they have widespread consequences, they become much more inside-the-Beltway issues,” Risch said.

Risch’s experience was echoed throughout the Senate. When asked whether he’d heard from constituents about DHS, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri shook his head and mouthed “no” while stepping into a Republican luncheon to discuss how to move forward on the issue. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she’d heard about the issue “a little bit” while at home, but largely in the form of complaints from Transportation Security Administration workers, whose paychecks would be delayed until after DHS funding is restored, at the airport on her way back to D.C.

“Not as incensed as a lot of other things in the past,” Sen. Johnny Isakson said of his constituents in Georgia. “The biggest thing right now is probably ISIL and what we’re going to do about them. That was probably two-to-one in the comments.”

The members’ experiences are supported by recent polling on the issue. Sixty percent of Americans in a new Huffington Post/YouGov poll say they’re not following the potential DHS shutdown closely.

Part of the issue is certainly an apathetic public, uninterested in the issues before Congress and not likely to call up Sen. Rob Portman’s office or attend a barbecue with Risch to talk with him about it.

Forty percent of Americans polled by CNN earlier this month said that a DHS shutdown would be a “major problem,” while just 15 percent called it a “crisis.” Another 45 percent said it would be either a minor problem or not a problem at all.

But if there is a shutdown beginning Saturday morning, members don’t expect to hear much more from their constituents. In reality, the effects of a shutdown would have minimal effect on the lives of everyday Americans, at least to begin with. Essential employees, including most Border Patrol agents, Secret Service officers, members of the National Guard, and TSA workers would all remain in their jobs (they wouldn’t be earning a paycheck, however, until the shutdown is resolved). During the last shutdown, 85 percent of DHS personnel remained at work.

“I still haven’t seen the analysis of what happens in the shutdown situation, but it seems to me that the people that are considered essentially government employees on things like TSA and what have you, the operation itself would not be affected,” Risch said. “People want to get on with their lives. If they can’t get on an airplane, that’s a different ballgame.”

The same CNN poll showed that Republicans would earn a larger share of the blame for a shutdown than would President Obama, but as long as the nation’s security personnel are on the job, it’s unclear whether Americans will notice the shutdown at all. That has members wondering whether a shutdown would actually put pressure on their colleagues to come to a deal and restore the department’s funding.

But the longer a shutdown continues, the more the department will have to cut corners to maintain its essential functions. And, as Collins noted, once payday comes along for those DHS workers, they’re unlikely to stay quiet for very long. “We’re going to have a lot of unhappy DHS workers who will have to work and won’t be getting a paycheck,” she said.

What We're Following See More »
BARR PLANS TO SEND CONGRESS A SUMMARY
Mueller Report Almost Done
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

“Attorney General Bill Barr is preparing to announce as early as next week the completion of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, with plans for Barr to submit to Congress soon after a summary of Mueller's confidential report. ... The preparations are the clearest indication yet that Mueller is nearly done with his almost two-year investigation. The precise timing of the announcement is subject to change. The scope and contours of what Barr will send to Congress remain unclear.”

IN UNANIMOUS DECISION
SCOTUS Limits State and Local Governments' Ability to Levy Fines
7 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The U.S. Supreme Court curbed the power of cities and states to levy fines and seize property, siding with a man trying to keep his Land Rover after he pleaded guilty to selling drugs. The unanimous ruling marks the first time the court has said that states and cities are bound by the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines, part of the Eighth Amendment."

Source:
AFTER U.S. WITHDRAWS FROM INF TREATY
Putin Threatens Arms Race
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Moscow will match any U.S. move to deploy new nuclear missiles closer to Russia by stationing its own missiles closer to the United States or by deploying faster missiles or both, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday. Putin said Russia was not seeking confrontation and would not take the first step to deploy missiles in response to Washington’s decision this month to quit a landmark Cold War-era arms control treaty."

Source:
MAY 26-28
Trump to Visit Japan
9 hours ago
THE LATEST
AVOIDS SHUTDOWN WITH A FEW HOURS TO SPARE
Trump Signs Border Deal
5 days ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump signed a sweeping spending bill Friday afternoon, averting another partial government shutdown. The action came after Trump had declared a national emergency in a move designed to circumvent Congress and build additional barriers at the southern border, where he said the United States faces 'an invasion of our country.'"

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login