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Mike L.
Republican UT

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  • Department of Homeland Security Funding

    by Senator Mike Lee

    Posted on 2015-02-02

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    LEE. Mr. President, tomorrow afternoon the Senate will vote to begin consideration of the bill called H.R. 240. This is a bill that authorizes funding for the Department of Homeland Security, or DHS. It would fund DHS through September of this year. This, of course, is a procedural vote we have scheduled for tomorrow, not a substantive one. The only question on the table, the sole question in connection with this particular vote, will be whether the Senate is ready to begin voting and debating on H.R. 240.

    I am ready--I am eager, in fact--to begin this debate. It does need to begin. That is what this vote is about. Not just because we have only 25 days before the current budget authority for DHS expires but also because this debate will finally allow the American people to see where their elected representatives, right here in the U.S. Senate, stand on President Obama's recent Executive action on immigration.

    The legislature is the only lawmaking branch within our Federal Government because it is the only deliberative branch in our government. Before Congress enacts a piece of legislation--before it makes a new piece of law--we first debate the merits of that legislation--weighing the various pros and cons of each proposal in a candid and transparent discussion, and allowing the various sides of the issue to make their case.

    [[Page S689]] Open, robust debate is not merely incidental to the lawmaking process that goes on here, it is the essence of that lawmaking process. It is at the very heart, the very center, the very core of this process that we hold near and dear and was established by our 227-year-old founding document. It is the only way for Members of Congress to fully explore the cost and consequences of a particular policy under consideration. It is the only way for the American people to know exactly where their elected officials stand on an issue; and, just as importantly, why they stand where they stand.

    When the President of the United States announced in November of last year he was singlehandedly going to rewrite our immigration laws, in effect, he short-circuited this process of debate and of deliberation that is at the very heart of our constitutional lawmaking process.

    His announcement showed us what it looks like when one person ignores the limits of his office and claims the power to change the law all on his own, just as an expression of his own unilateral will.

    Policies are written behind closed doors, in consultation with lawyers and special-interest groups, rather than the American people. The law is pronounced from behind a podium as a fait accompli rather than discussed and debated in an open, transparent, fair contest of ideas and open to inspection by 300 million Americans who will be affected by these decisions.

    This is not how our Republic works. It is not what the American people expect from their elected officials in Washington, DC. Indeed, poll after poll shows most people disapprove of the President's Executive action on immigration--that same action taken just this last November. Even those who agree with the President on policy grounds, even those who think the President's amnesty action would be the kind of policy they would prefer, even those people disagree with the President on the process because the American people understand that the process does matter. Especially among those people who have taken an oath to uphold, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States--that same document that prescribes the formula by which our laws are made.

    According to one poll, when asked if the President should ``sidestep Congress and act on his own using Executive orders,'' only 22 percent of the public said he should--22 percent. It is hardly a rousing mandate from the American people. In other words, the American people know what our President seems to have forgotten: that in a constitutional republic the ends don't justify the means.

    The American people oppose lawmaking by fiat not out of some abstract loyalty to the abstract concept of separation of powers. No, that is not why. Rather, they understand quite intuitively that when a President sidesteps Congress and avoids open, robust debate on a particular policy, it is probably because the public isn't likely to accept and isn't likely to like the substance of that policy. Otherwise, he wouldn't need to take this kind of action. Otherwise, he could do it through the people's duly elected representatives who have been put in office specifically for the purpose of making law through this open, deliberative, transparent process.

    This is certainly what we have seen in the aftermath of the President's Executive order on immigration. The more the people discover about the content and about the consequences of his policy, the less they like it. For instance, the President claimed that his Executive order would honor the golden rule of American exceptionalism: If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.

    We now know his plan subverts this very basic fundamental bargain by paving a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who have broken the rules and violated the law, and by granting them work permits and benefits such as Social Security and Medicare.

    Likewise, we were told the President's Executive order would make our immigration system more fair and more functional, more accessible for everyone. But we now know his plan will only exacerbate the problems in our labor market for American workers by giving more power and more money to the dysfunctional U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. This is the agency within the Department of Homeland Security that was recently reported to have given over 900,000 work permits to illegal immigrants since 2009. We know that unless we do something to stop it, unless we do something to reach back and take back our constitutional privilege, our institutional privilege as the lawmaking branch of the Federal Government, the President's Executive order will go into effect at a time when all net job growth in our economy since 2007 has gone to immigrants.

    These are the kinds of facts and figures that ought to inform the legislative process and ought to not be treated as some sort of afterthought. These are not, coincidentally, exactly the kinds of observations, the kinds of facts and figures, the kinds of details that could have been and should have been and, undoubtedly, inevitably would have been explored had this policy been implemented through the constitutionally prescribed formula.

    Last November the President may have chosen to ignore these facts and to circumvent debate altogether, but that doesn't mean we have to respond in kind. That certainly doesn't mean we have to capitulate and say, okay, the way he wants to do it is fine. It is not constitutional. It is not legal. It is not what the American people want, but we just have to accept it. No. On the contrary, I believe we have not just a right but we have a duty, we have an affirmative obligation to make every effort to ensure lawmaking by edict does not become the new normal in this country. Not now, not ever, not in the United States of America.

    Beginning debate on this bill will give us the opportunity to do just that, to make sure this never becomes the new normal. Some have said we shouldn't be debating the President's Executive action on immigration right now. They say it has nothing to do with funding the operations of the Department of Homeland Security. To this I have a very simple reply: If not now, when? If we are not going to do it right now, when are we going to do it? When will there be a better time? When will there be any adequate time for us to respond to this constitutional overreach, this grave injustice? If we don't debate the legality of the President's Executive orders when we are in the very process of authorizing money to the Department that is tasked with carrying out those very orders, then when exactly will we have that debate? The truth is now is the perfect time because it is the only time. It is the only time when we can do this. It is the only time for us to have a meaningful debate on the President's Executive action on immigration.

    At any other point our debate is more or less hypothetical. Now is the time, when we are exercising our constitutional power of the purse, that our debate has consequences, real consequences. They are consequences the American people can see and feel, consequences that will inure to the betterment or the detriment of the American people. Now is the time when this needs to be debated.

    The power of the purse is the power to allocate money to fund government operations as well as the power to withhold money from improper or illegitimate government operations. It is what enables Congress--and only Congress, uniquely Congress--to reform dysfunctional government.

    We like to talk about the power of the purse as a tool that Congress can use, use as a check and a balance against the excesses of an overbearing President. That is absolutely true. There is no doubt about it. But first and foremost, it is a tool for Members of Congress themselves to represent the interests of our constituents and to fix the very things that are broken within our government.

    Our Constitution grants the legislative branch--this branch, Congress--the power of the purse not simply to achieve some abstract equilibrium or balance of power, but to compel the national government to truly represent the American people and to be faithful stewards of taxpayer funds.

    At the end of November of last year, President Obama made his choice. It was an unfortunate choice; it was a wrong choice. It was a choice not backed up by law, not backed up by the U.S. Constitution, and flatly inconsistent with the same. President [[Page S690]] Obama made his choice in November. Now it is time for us to make ours.

    The President chose to sidestep Congress, and in the process to avoid debate and to rewrite our immigration laws on his own. Now we must decide: Are we going to be a deliberative body or are we going to be a rubberstamp for the President's agenda, whoever the President is happens to be in power, whether it is now or years from now? Are we going to be that kind of legislative body that just rubberstamps what the President does, or are we going to exercise our prerogative as an independent coordinate branch of this government to make sure our laws are faithfully and carefully executed in a manner consistent not only with the wishes of the people but also with the formula prescribed by the Constitution? Are we going to acquiesce to an Executive who disregards the boundaries of his office, or are we going to stand up for the rule of law and for the will of the American people? I choose the latter. I urge my colleagues to choose the latter. I hope my colleagues will join me in voting to at least begin debate on H.R. 240. This is a debate the American people have been waiting for Congress to have for far too long. If not now, when? The time is now. We need to get on this bill. We need to debate it. We need to allow our constituents to be heard.

    The American people have a will, and that will is expressed though regular elections. Those elections choose those people who occupy seats in this Chamber and in the House of Representatives. We must represent them. We must do so in a manner fully consistent with the oath that every one of us has taken as required by article VI of the Constitution. We can begin to do that by voting to proceed to H.R. 240 tomorrow.

    I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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