IN THE impasse over funding that threatens to shutter the Department of Homeland Security at the end of this month, House Speaker John A. Boehner has labored mightily to wash his hands of responsibility.
By Washington’s cynical standards, Mr. Boehner may have a point. The Republican-controlled House indeed did do a job — a job on the American people. It passed a funding bill for DHS — with poison-pill riders attached to defund President Obama’s immigration policy — that it fully knew had no chance of passing the Senate or being signed into law.
Mr. Boehner’s implicit argument is that the obligation of lawmakers begins and ends with posturing. Not compromising. Not moving the ball forward. And not accepting political reality and doing the responsible thing, which in this case is to maintain funding and operations at a department with 240,000 employees that oversees border and airport security, the Secret Service and dozens of other critical government functions.
The bill passed by House Republicans would defund Mr. Obama’s executive order to shield several million illegal immigrants from deportation. In the kabuki theater of Congress, the bill has followed a predictable course. It has been taken up three times in the Senate, where it lacks the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles, and three times it has been filibustered by Democrats, just as Mr. Boehner and every other member of Congress knew it would be.
Now, rather than passing a no-gimmicks bill to keep funding flowing, Mr. Boehner and his querulous caucus are insisting that the onus is somehow on the Senate. As Mr. Boehner huffs and puffs, even many Senate Republicans are rolling their eyes, publicly warning Republicans in the House to get serious lest they suffer the political fallout when DHS closes its doors. Thousands of employees would be sent home, with thousands more expected to keep working without pay.
At this point, it’s anyone’s guess whether the stalemate can be broken. Congress returns Feb. 23 from recess, at which point it will have just five days to resolve the deadlock. House Republicans are so far refusing to budge, imagining they will be able to shift the blame for another shutdown onto the Democrats. This is magical thinking.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says it is “obviously” up to the House to pass a realistic bill that can clear the upper chamber. More high-mindedly, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) pointed out that the House could have used its time more constructively by actually passing an immigration bill to deal meaningfully with the underlying issue of 11 million undocumented immigrants.
So far, House Republicans prefer to fulminate, grandstand and vent their fury — which will be nothing compared with the fury directed at them if a critical department of government is shuttered.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) had it right. “When we were given the honor of the majority, we have to govern wisely,” he told Politico. “Shutdowns are not wise policy for key national security-related departments.”