OPINION

Nelson Balido: Homeland Security too important to be sidelined by spat

Sub-freezing temperatures continue in on Capitol Hill in Washington early Friday morning, Jan. 9, 2015. With the end of the first week of the GOP controlled 114th Congress, House Republicans are on track to easily pass legislation to authorize the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, moving the GOP-led Congress closer to a clash with President Barack Obama.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sub-freezing temperatures continue in on Capitol Hill in Washington early Friday morning, Jan. 9, 2015. With the end of the first week of the GOP controlled 114th Congress, House Republicans are on track to easily pass legislation to authorize the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, moving the GOP-led Congress closer to a clash with President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As is all too typical of congressional politics these days, House Republicans and Senate Democrats can’t come to an agreement over a critical piece of legislation. This time the security of our nation’s borders and the ability to keep trade flowing is at stake.

House Republicans have used a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security to vent their spleen over the president’s executive order to grant a temporary amnesty to those individuals in the country illegally. Senate Democrats might be in the minority now, but they still have the filibuster at their disposal, and they’re not going along with the Republicans’ move.

The president may have poisoned the well for future collaboration, but Republicans shouldn’t live up to his caricature of them as obstructionists.

- Nelson Balido

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the House bill is “stuck” in his chamber. Without 60 votes, which is the amount required to overcome a filibuster and move a bill to a floor vote, it’s hard to see how a bill to undo a major presidential policy priority becomes unstuck. So McConnell is forced to punt back to the House.

Meanwhile the president and his aides get to hector congressional Republicans about their responsibility to “set aside politics” and fund DHS.

The president’s right; Congress should set aside politics. But the president should follow his own advice.

Let’s remember, after all, that it was the president who abused his executive power to carry out a sweeping immigration policy change and now it seems that a federal judge seems to agree.

The president’s maneuver has caused more harm than good. It might have mortally wounded any chance to pass into law a comprehensive immigration overhaul during the remainder of his administration. There is such mistrust between the White House and Capitol Hill that bipartisan policy achievements on any subject seems like a long shot, much less on an issue as thorny as immigration.

This is a shame. There is plenty that both parties agree on. Our borders need better security. Our ports need better resources. We need a realistic solution for dealing with the millions in the country in an undocumented status. Our visa policies for both high-skilled and low-skilled workers need to be modernized. Employers need a reliable way to verify the status of new-hires.

Unfortunately the president may have permanently set these very doable goals forever on the back burner.

But the Republicans shouldn’t take their ball and go home.

The GOP should continue to legislate. Pass bills and send them to the president. They shouldn’t fall prey to their worst instincts to only send veto bait to the president. If the president vetoes good bills, then so be it. Move on and get back to the people’s business. But Republicans should steer clear of inserting poison pills into critical spending bills that, if they don’t pass, could harm core government functions like border security. A DHS budget bill and a bill to fund the Small Business Administration aren’t on the same level of importance.

On a recent trip to the Texas-Mexico border, I got to see up close an exciting new pilot program between local law enforcement and first responders to improve interagency communication that eventually could benefit the Border Patrol using innovative low-cost technologies. When fully online, it will keep our men and women wearing the badge safer and make our borders more secure. On the same trip I had the privilege to visit Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector HQ and the new nearly complete Comstock Station located just a stone’s throw away from Mexico. Patrol areas in these sectors are quite expansive of which mobile technologies can have a significance effect not only ensuring our men in green are safe, but have tools they need to keep our borders in check. There is funding for these areas in the DHS budget proposal to include much-needed vehicles with Mobile Surveillance Capabilities. It would be too bad if exciting projects like that were delayed because of political squabbling.

Republicans should use their new Senate majority to lead responsibly and advance positive reforms on border security, immigration and other issues. The president may have poisoned the well for future collaboration, but Republicans shouldn’t live up to his caricature of them as obstructionists.

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

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