Politics Blog

Sen. Murray: South Lake Whatcom Fire District grant in jeopardy if GOP blocks Homeland Security funds

It’s not often that the Politics Blog casts an eye to the other Washington, but then again it’s not every day that Sen. Patty Murray mentions a rural fire district in Whatcom County.

Murray, a Democrat who is up for re-election next year, testified in the U.S. Senate today, Tuesday, Feb. 24, that a small grant to Fire District 18 could fall through if Congress does not fund the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS funding has become a political football as Republicans try to throw a wrench in President Barack Obama’s plans to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. If Congress can’t agree on a funding package by Sunday, the department runs out of money. A small fraction of nonessential personnel will be sent home, while border patrol agents and airport security screeners will continue to work without pay, according to an explanation of the situation by The Washington Post.

To highlight how the DHS shutdown would affect everyday America, Murray brought up Fire District 18, South Lake Whatcom, which could lose a $24,000 Homeland Security grant to pay for new boots, helmets and other equipment.

In Murray’s Senate speech:

I’ve been working with them to help get that equipment — which protects those volunteers who put their life on the line to save others — but if Congress doesn’t fund the Department those grants could be at risk.

And that is unacceptable.

And it’s proof that this political mess Republicans have made isn’t a hypothetical problem – it’s something that will have real impacts in every one of our communities across the country.

A video of Murray’s full statement is posted on YouTube.

Here’s the full text of the senator’s statement:

M. President, as we count down the final days before funding for the Department of Homeland Security potentially runs out, I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss how we got to this point.

Because – as this deadline has gotten closer and closer – I’ve been continually reminded that we have been down this road many times before.

And really – this manufactured crisis is no different than so many others we’ve faced in Congress over the last few years.

Because, M. President, what’s happening in Congress right now is not a debate over government spending policies or priorities. That much is certain.

This is not a debate over how the Department of Homeland Security should function.

And it’s certainly not a debate about our national security.

This is, pure and simple, a political fight that Republicans are having with themselves across the two chambers of the Capitol, and across the different factions of the Republican party.

Now – that’s not the case for every Republican here in the Senate.

Several members have said clearly that we should fund the Department of Homeland Security without any strings attached, but M. President, the fact remains that some Republicans are once again making it clear that they’re willing to hold hostage the basic operation of our government…once again, over right wing politics, and nothing else.

And while this process might seem complicated, it’s actually very simple.

Democrats, along with national security experts, law enforcement experts, state and local officials, and the three former Secretaries of Homeland Security – including two Republicans want to do nothing more than fund the Department of Homeland Security cleanly, with no strings or unrelated political amendments attached.

But M. President, because they are so angry about the President’s actions months ago to improve our country’s immigration laws, some Republicans are demanding to pass a bill that will tear apart families who are working hard to make it in America, put our security at risk, and seriously threaten all of the work we’ve done recently – including the budget agreement I reached with Congressman Paul Ryan – to keep our government functioning.

That’s not only bad policy – it doesn’t make any sense.

The bill passed by Speaker Boehner and House Republicans would be devastating to families across the country, and it would make day-to-day operations for the Department of Homeland Security needlessly difficult.

For example, TSA agents who work keep our airports safe and secure would be forced to work without pay – and M. President, those men and women should be worrying about doing their jobs, not whether they’ll be able to pay the bills and put food on the table.

But, because of political pressure from the extreme, anti-immigration right-wing of their Party…that’s what Republican leaders in the House are demanding.

This looming shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security has become, to them, nothing more than collateral damage.

And M. President, the national impacts of not funding the Department of Homeland Security have been discussed for weeks now, but you know what? This would also cause problems all the way down to individual, local fire departments.

Right now, the Whatcom County Fire District 18 – located in my state, close to the Canadian border, about an hour north of Seattle. They are applying for an assistance to firefighters grant, which is funded through the Department of Homeland Security.

This is a very rural fire district with only one paid employee, who happens to be the fire chief, along with a volunteer firefighting force of 16 and a volunteer EMT force of 6.

Now, they’ve applied for a very small, $24,000 federal grant to replace their heavily used and outdated equipment – everything from boots and helmets to gloves and fire hoods – that are now over 11 years old.

I’ve been working with them to help get that equipment – which protects those volunteers who put their life on the line to save others – but if Congress doesn’t fund the Department – those grants could be at risk.

And that is unacceptable.

And it’s proof that this political mess Republicans have made isn’t a hypothetical problem – it’s something that will have real impacts in every one of our communities across the country.

So M. President, my colleagues are not going to give in and let Republicans play politics with the Department of Homeland Security.

For years now, by the way, we have seen clearly that this strategy doesn’t work – it only holds us back.

I’m encouraged that the Majority Leader has said that they are willing to bring up a clean, Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill to the floor.

We need the same commitment from the Speaker of the House of Representatives

Time is running out. The country is waiting. We need to fund Homeland Security.

Thank you, M. President – I yield the floor.

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