By Tom Cushing
The House of Representatives performs history?s first repeat hara-kiriUploaded: Feb 27, 2015
How does it feel to have The Gang That Can't Shoot Straight in charge of our most fundamental national well-being? From where I sit it's a sad spectacle, as the GOP-controlled House of Representatives failed to pass a routine bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security.
Let's review: in 2013, the Senate passed an immigration bill (we'll get to homeland security in a minute) with bi-partisan support. Over the intervening 609 days, the House has been incapable of considering the Senate bill, or crafting its own version. Some say they were too busy repealing ObamaCare 56 times; cynics suggest instead that any bill that emerges from the House will demonstrate such virulent anti-immigrant bias that it will virtually ensure election of a Democrat to the presidency in 2016. Take your pick.
Faced with this inaction on a problem of some national urgency, the President either exercised or exceeded his powers as the nation's Chief Executive and has ordered that certain immigration actions be taken. To his credit, he pleaded with the House to pass something ? anything ? in two successive States of the Union addresses, to which all the Congressfolk were invited. At least that would have framed the debate, an outcome which tends to lend some credence to the cynics' explanation, above. Litigation to resolve the Separation-of-Powers issue is ongoing, with the GOP having won an early round.
Not content with that state of affairs, and now in charge of Both Houses of Congress, the Republicans gratuitously glommed their immigration outrage onto an otherwise routine spending bill to fund the one federal agency that even they probably agree is a proper exercise of government: Homeland Security, the anti-terrorism folks. They conditioned passage of that bill upon repeal of the President's utterly unrelated immigration initiative. Without funding, part of the Department goes home. A larger fraction of the Americans we have tasked with keeping us safe would be expected to work for free (Congress, we're told, would continue to be compensated for these shenanigans).
Now, students of recent calamity may recall a similar incident in October, 2013, wherein a similar tantrum was exposed as a bluff, but only after much larger parts of the federal government were shut down. The GOP lost that pot ? they took nothing away from those efforts except a big black eye from folks who pay attention. Truth told, they did splatter a bit of their muck onto the President too, in the view of their base, many of whom don't pay much attention. It was a huge uproar, and an abject tactical failure. That said, it was also high drama, and so much fun that they just had to try it again.
Someone, somewhere, must have actually believed that this time it'd be different ? but it's not. The Prez simply called the hand: 'send me a clean bill to fund the agency, and I'll sign it.' That is, after all, how it used to work. The GOP-controlled Senate had the good sense to fold, as Majority Leader McConnell rightly concluded that he held losing cards. He may even have decided that national security trumps partisan hi-jinx -- if so, the man can be credited with knowing the value of a good protective shell.
The Senators sent a clean bill to the House. As of late Friday afternoon, the Representatives could not bring themselves to acknowledge the obvious fact that they've got nothin'. They have flipped over the table and sent the game into turmoil, refusing once again to enact legislation.
Stay tuned ? we cannot be sure what will transpire next, but even right-wing partisans like David Brooks on the News Hour today were shaking their heads, and calling this a foreseeable, avoidable catastrophe for the House leadership, into which they blundered voluntarily. This is Governing 101, and if they can't get anything done except to symbolically repeal ObamaCare for a fifty-seventh time, they need to get lost.
This incident does make it ever more obvious from whence the Washington intractability has emanated for these past six years. Even the GOP Senate had to concede that point today by cutting loose their self-destructive kin. If only we could hope that this time the ritual suicide finally succeeds.