[dropcap]E[/dropcap]ven if you almost never pay attention to what your representatives are doing on Capitol Hill to make sure the trains run on time or not, you will have heard that the trains don’t even seem to be leaving the station anymore. Congress is doing even less governing than the historic paltry amount of governing it did last year, and the year before that.
On Friday, Democrats in the House bailed out Republican Speaker John Boehner and joined with the chamber’s dwindling Boehner-bloc of Republicans to fund the Department of Homeland Security for another week. Fifty tea party-Republicans earlier in the night humiliated Boehner by rejecting his proposal to extend the department funding for three weeks in order to keep negotiating. The tea party plan is to not negotiate at all but to continue to try instead to force Democrats in the Senate and President Obama to repeal Obama’s executive orders aimed at halting deportations of young undocumented people and their family members. They intend to do this by attaching the repeal proposal to Homeland Security funding. It’s a hopeless plan. Their bill can not pass the Senate, where Democrats will block a vote, and the president would veto it in the extreme unlikely chance it made it to his desk.
They know this is true. They have been here before, and not very long ago. In October 2013, House Republicans led by the far-right members of the caucus tied their votes for the federal budget to proposals to repeal Obamacare. Their budget read like a kidnapper’s ransom note, and the President and congressional Democrats refused to pay the ransom. Did they really think Pres. Obama was going to repeal Obamacare? The federal government shut down for 16 days. Some 800,000 workers were furloughed. National parks and facilities closed. The public blamed the kidnappers.
Congress has been in session less than two months so far this year. Before the ongoing Department of Homeland Security funding debacle, Republicans spent weeks on a bill aimed at green-lighting the Canadian KeystoneXL tar-sands pipeline. They hoped to use the bill to bypass executive branch review of the project. Opponents of the pipeline pointed out the horrible environmental costs it would ring up, the overblown nature of the U.S. jobs the pipeline was supposed to create and the hollowness of claims that it would further North American energy independence. Obama mostly agreed, saying early on that he would veto the bill, which is exactly what he did last week.
The dysfunction in Washington is unfolding exactly as many feared it would.
In the midterm elections last November, Republicans extended their majority in the House of Representatives and seized control of the Senate. Analysts worried at the time that a Republican-controlled Congress of the tea party era would be unable to govern, that the growing hard-right fringe would spend the bulk of its energy trying fruitlessly to repeal Obamacare, hating on undocumented immigrants and catering to fossil fuel companies.
Colorado’s newly elected U.S. Senator Cory Gardner took pains after the election to reassure Americans that his party knew better than to let that happen. On ABC’s “This Week” he told George Stephanopoulos that voters had sent a clear message to lawmakers. “The message is that what is happening in Washington DC isn’t working.”
Gardner was talking about constant gridlock due to instinctive head-banging and political positioning.
“It’s important that Republicans show that we can govern maturely, that we can govern with competence.”
He said Republicans had to send bills to the president’s desk that the president would actually sign, proposals that “have bipartisan support and that [will] show the American people that we are serious about our intention to govern.”
“Does that mean taking things like shutting down the government off the table?” asked Stephanopoulos.
“The government shutdown is a bad idea, anytime anywhere,” said Gardner.
Yet here we are. As Simon Maloy writes at Salon, “this all spells real trouble going forward.”
“The story of the first two months of the all-Republican Congress has been complete dysfunction and the inability to perform the rudimentary tasks of government. The Republicans are fighting amongst themselves and venting obvious frustration with Boehner’s shambolic approach to governing. On Friday night, McConnell passed the one-week CR and then immediately adjourned the Senate for the weekend – putting all the pressure to act on Boehner and sending a clear message that he’s done with this fight. Earlier in the day, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) pleaded with House Republicans to stop the madness. ‘Hopefully we’re gonna end the attaching of bullshit to essential items of the government,’ he said.”
Meantime, earlier in the week, Oklahoma’s James Inhofe, new Republican Chairman of the Senate Environment Committee and lead congressional climate-change denier, did his best to demonstrate how serious he is about governing maturely when he performed a sad kind of Marx Brothers routine in which he managed to lampoon himself as a pompous know-nothing official.
Inhofe’s “Senator Snowball” routine drew the following response from Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who seemed determined to win back a small measure of dignity for his chamber, however fleeting.
(H/T to The Brad Blog on Senator Snowball.)