WASHINGTON – Bang. Bang. Crash. That was the sound of the Republican majority in Congress shooting itself in both feet, then tripping over them.
At a moment of heightened concern that terrorists in the Middle East might stage or inspire attacks on U.S. soil, the GOP-controlled House and Senate are unable to agree on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security. If the party’s aim is to show Americans it is ready to govern, we are witnessing an epic fail.
Rather than ensure the smooth operation of the agency charged with keeping the nation safe, Republicans would rather argue about a separate issue – immigration – and struggle over tactics for tilting at windmills. Meanwhile, a Feb. 27 deadline for passing an appropriations bill draws near. “I don’t believe we should shut down the Department of Homeland Security, given the threats that are obviously out there and the attacks on America,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Wednesday. But too few in his party are listening.
The problem is that Republican conservatives want to use the Homeland Security funding bill to reverse President Obama’s executive actions allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to stay without fear of deportation. A measure stripping out money to fund Obama’s initiatives easily passed the House, with its massive GOP majority and streamlined procedural rules. But the Senate is a different story.
It was obvious from the beginning that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not have the 60 votes that would be needed to get the bill through the Senate. Nevertheless, McConnell has dutifully brought the bill up three times – and seen it rejected each time by Democrats, who quite reasonably demand a clean funding bill with no extraneous bells or whistles.
“Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Voting for the same bill over and over again?” McCain asked.
Indeed, the whole episode does seem pretty insane. House Speaker John Boehner knew the bill he sent to the Senate would be dead on arrival. McConnell knew he didn’t have the votes to pass it. And both leaders knew that if the legislation somehow made it through – perhaps when Democrats weren’t looking, or through divine intervention – there was no way Obama would ever sign it into law.
Boehner and McConnell appear to be trying to teach House Republicans a lesson in basic arithmetic. The class, however, is busy throwing spitballs.
The GOP majority in the House continues to value symbolic posturing over pragmatic action. Is this too sweeping a statement? Not if you consider what House Republicans were doing this week instead of working on a Homeland Security bill that might actually pass: Voting for the 56th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, knowing full well that this attempt, like the previous 55, has no earthly chance of success.
GOP freshmen wanted to have their votes recorded in obeisance to what has become a Republican article of faith: Obamacare is evil incarnate. If I stipulate that the whole universe gets the message, would you guys please stop pretending that Obama is ever going to sign legislation abolishing the landmark health care program that bears his name?
Let’s see, what else have Republicans achieved since taking control of both chambers? Well, the House tried to pass a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy but had to pull the legislation at the last minute over a requirement that rape victims report their assault to police before qualifying for an exemption. Republicans did manage to pass a bill authorizing the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, but Obama promises a veto and the GOP doesn’t have the votes to override him.
If this is the pattern, it’s going to be a long couple of years.
Let me suggest a different approach. First, Republicans must cross a big hurdle: acknowledging that with Democrats able to block legislation in the Senate and Obama still resident in the White House, passing legislation will require compromise. Once you get beyond that, the rest is easy.
No, you can’t repeal Obamacare, but you might be able to make it work better for your constituents. No, you can’t undo Obama’s immigration actions without passing legislation that the Senate and the president find acceptable. No, you can’t hijack funding for a crucial government agency without suffering political damage – and ultimately folding because you don’t have the cards.
The GOP apparently hopes the display of juvenile behavior we’re witnessing will inspire voters to give the party even more power in 2016 by electing a Republican president. Good luck with that.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.