It used to be that Congress was broken, and was forced to repeatedly kick the can down the road. Now it seems that Congress can’t even properly kick the can down the road.
At a time of alarming national security threats, the House of Representatives brought the nation to the brink of a government shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.
On Friday evening, dozens of conservative Republicans revolted against a plan push the deadline back three weeks, joining with Democrats to vote down a simple funding bill to continue the agency’s funding.
Conservative Republicans objected because they wanted Congress to rebuke President Obama over his immigration executive action, which they view as an illegal “amnesty.” Democrats protested because they wanted a “clean,” long-term spending bill that would provide certainty for the Department of Homeland Security. In the end, neither got what they wanted.
With less than two hours to go before the DHS funding expired, Congress managed the most modest of feats: punting the issue for seven days. Which means that a week from now, the agency responsible the nation’s security will once again be on the brink of losing its funding and forced to furlough thousands of employees.
Instead of rebuking Obama, it was Speaker John Boehner who was embarrassed as conservatives in his caucus once again showed how little control he has over the far-right Tea Party faction in the House.
In the hours before the vote, the House was in chaos, adding to the anxiety that thousands of Homeland Security employees must feel, watching C-SPAN from home while Congress voted on whether they would be paid next week.
“I’m not happy with the body of which I am a member, but the only way we’re going to do things is compromising, and on something like this, there’s not much room: either we fund DHS or we don’t,” Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver told The Daily Beast.
Republicans have realized that even though they technically hold both chambers Congress, they cannot control it. The Friday evening failure to pass even a modest three week extension of DHS funding had blame flying to-and-fro: Democrats blaming Republicans, Republicans blaming Democrats—even Republicans blaming Republicans!
“I am sorely disappointed in the 52 Republicans who joined with Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats to defeat” the three-week spending bill, said Republican Rep. Diane Black following the failure of the first short-term extension. “A short-term Continuing Resolution would have allowed us to avoid a Democrat-led DHS shutdown and fight the President’s overreaches on the firmest ground possible.”
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk called for an end of “attaching bullshit to essential items of the government.” And Rep. Peter King, former chairman on the House Homeland Security Committee, slammed a potential lapse of DHS funding as “wrong politically” and “wrong morally.”
And of course, Democrats blamed Republicans for the crisis, which stemmed from attaching an immigration issue to funding for the Department of Homeland Security. “The blame goes to the people who didn’t understand that homeland security was more important than ideology, or dislike of the policies of the president,” Cleaver said.
There was senselessness and illogic on both sides.
Conservative Republicans wanted to protest what they viewed as President Obama’s illegal “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. But shutting down the Department of Homeland Security, which houses the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, would have done little to stop it: USCIS is largely funded by fees from its users.
On the other hand, Democrats rallied against a three-week extension for DHS funding Friday afternoon, citing the need for long-term DHS funding. But they flocked in droves to help pass a bill that would have funded a shorter, one-week extension.
Conservative Republicans in the House seemed to have learned the lesson—rightly or wrongly—that there are no repercussions for the government shutdown in 2013. After all, the GOP picked up seats in the House and wrested control of the Senate from Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections.
The coming seven days promise to be hectic, with a controversial speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before Congress. Meanwhile, the fundamentals of the DHS negotiating landscape still have not changed.
See you next week.