Here We Go Again

In case you haven’t been following it, Congress is about to shut-down part of the government again. In this case, it is the Department of Homeland Security (home to the Coast Guard, TSA, Secret Service, FEMA, Border Service, and many other national security organizations) in a dispute over President Obama’s Executive Order last year concerning immigration.

As is the case with most of the recent self-created crisis cliff hangers, this one was known to be coming for months.  I hesitated for days to write about it because I thought that surely this was a tempest in a tea pot (or a tempest in a tea party, as one may prefer) and that it would be resolved. Indeed it may yet be resolved today or tomorrow, but as it stands now, as of midnight Friday, all funding for DHS will cease.

The Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) proposed what seems to me to be a reasonable compromise.  We will see if the Senate Democrats can say “yes” to getting “yes” but I think that they will after milking the situation for a day or two.  Since the issue is one of whether or not the president over-stepped his Constitutional authority, a Federal judge in Texas provided the “exit sign” to the stalemate, as Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) calls it, when he put a stay on the execution of the president’s order.  Since this is purported to be a Constitutional issue, it should rightly be resolved in the courts and that process is underway.  Let it play out as it should, and it seems that the Senate, or at least the majority of Republicans and Democrats, will let that path be the one to resolution — once they get past the pyrotechnics of politics and both sides making specious statements to the press.

(By the way, as a footnote — the judge in Texas did not rule the Executive Order unconstitutional as some have claimed.  I am not a legal scholar, but it appears from what I can discern that all he did was give Texas and 25 other states legal standing to pursue the case in court.  Since they have, he declared, legal standing the judge stayed the execution of the order until the case is resolved.  The Justice Department is appealing the stay order.  Apparently the judge provided legal standing to Texas based on an obscure interpretation of the cost basis for providing driver’s licenses, of all things.)

An unusual interpretation at best as I understand it, but the point remains that it is best resolved in the courts rather than through the withholding of funds for the DHS.

So what’s the problem?  Pursue the Senate compromise and be done with it.  The compromise is to separate the issue into two bills — one attempting to stop the president’s Executive Order and one to provide funding to DHS.  Bada bing bodda boom.  Done.  Both sides get what they want and our government continues to function.  While there are still some on both sides of the aisle unhappy with that arrangement, there appears to be sufficient bi-partisan support to get it done and move on.

Ah, but as always, there is a catch.  A pretty big catch.  That, as recently always seems to be the case, is in the House of Representatives — the People’s House.  Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) claims that the House already passed their bill and have no further obligation to take action.  The House bill ties funding the DHS to over-ruling of the Executive Order.  The Republican House members want that bill to go to the President so that he has to veto the bill and thus he can be blamed for blocking funding to the important DHS.  A political move that plays with our national security. There seems to be sufficient bi-partisan support in the House for the compromise that the Senate is proposing, but as we have seen time and again in the last few years, there is a strong tea party contingent that refuses to compromise and thus the bill can only pass with bi-partisan support. As in the past, Speaker Boehner is more than reluctant to anger that base by going ahead with a compromise.  We’ve seen this script before and it’s tiresome.

Some in the Congress are arguing that shutting down the DHS will not really compromise the security of the United States because 85% of the employees are considered essential and will continue to work anyway.  And although they will be working without pay, they’ll get it eventually — whenever eventually may be.  Of course, those workers can pay their mortgages, car payments, grocery bills, etc. “eventually” can’t they?

More to the point it ignores the function of the 15% that will be furloughed and the role that they play to make sure those in the field are able to do their jobs.  It also ignores that the DHS provides grants to states, cities, counties and other local governments to support some of their first responder capabilities. Those stop on Friday night which means that some jurisdictions will have to furlough local workers because they cannot pay them.  None of this of course takes into account the long-term implications of continued games whereby government workers see themselves as pawns in political point-making.  It impacts morale and more importantly, causes good workers to leave the public sector for more promising employment in the private sector.  It is also just plain wrong.

The ability of Congress to govern is broken, caught up in attempts to embarrass one party or another. We have all had enough.  I suppose this latest self-inflicted wound will resolve itself at the last minute, probably by providing temporary funding for four to six weeks while they work out another “compromise.” That will really turn into, again, kicking the can down the road so that we do this all over again in a few weeks.  Here we go again.  I just do not get it.


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