New London — If Congress doesn’t meet its Feb. 27 deadline to fund the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service reform won’t happen and terrorists who are moving back and forth between Europe, Syria and Iraq may be able to gain easier access to the United States, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy said Friday.
The two Democrats held a news conference at Fort Trumbull State Park, adjacent to Coast Guard Station New London, to urge their Republican colleagues to vote on a “clean” DHS funding bill. The department is operating on a continuing resolution until Feb. 27.
They said a lack of a budget could threaten the Coast Guard as well as new courses, new hires and new methods of training at the Coast Guard Academy. There’s also the possibility of unpaid furloughs for certain employees in Connecticut, they said.
The DHS budget will be before the U.S. Senate this week.
Unhappy with President Barack Obama’s executive action providing legal protection for about 5 million undocumented immigrants, Republicans in the House of Representatives, Blumenthal said, “have loaded this bill with all kinds of poison pill riders and amendments aimed at the president’s immigration policy.”
“The Republicans seem to care more about stopping immigrant dreams than stopping ISIS terrorists,” Blumenthal said.
Murphy said the risk is two-fold: first that DHS would shut down and second that it would continue to operate on a continuing resolution. Murphy noted that Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell “has made it clear that he doesn’t want to continue to operate in this manner of budget brinkmanship.”
“The Tea Party still controls the House of Representatives and it is hard to see how they are going to let go of this immigration fight and move the DHS budget forward unless Speaker (John) Boehner reaches out to Democrats in the House to do a bipartisan, clean DHS budget,” he said.
If DHS shuts down, emergency services would continue, which means Coast Guard Station New London would stay open. Border patrol would stay on the job, too. “But new initiatives will stop,” Murphy said. Two key initiatives would be disrupted, he said, including the Secret Service’s plan to reform the agency.
“We know, with the breaches of security around the White House, that the Secret Service is not measuring up,” Murphy said.
“The new DHS budget has an increase in funding for the visa program so that we can more accurately vet potential terrorists who are coming to the United States through Europe from Syria,” he added.
Plans to increase “coastal protection, coastal patrols” within the Coast Guard’s budget also would not move forward, according to Murphy.
On Friday, the senators also visited Norwich and New London, both of which could apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding as a result of the blizzard.
If applications are made, they could be severely delayed, Blumenthal said, because “some of those FEMA people may not be at work.”
According to Blumenthal, the Coast Guard Academy has 700 personnel, of which one-third is civilian. A DHS shutdown could result in unpaid furloughs for a substantial number of those employees, primarily non-emergency personnel, Blumenthal said.
“There would be ramifications and ripple effects across the country that we need to avoid,” he said.