“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Sources disagree on who made that famous remark, some suggest Einstein, others suggest it was Benjamin Franklin. Regardless, it’s a true statement in most cases, and it’s something Speaker Boehner and the GOP need to pay attention to. Shutting down the government – or in this case, part of it – by refusing to grant funds backfired spectacularly the last time around, and there’s no reason to think the result this time will be any different.
After November’s mid-terms, the Republicans should have been in the driving seat, but Obama, ever the scheming politician, forced a serious and hugely damaging immigration reform bill through the lame-duck session of Congress before the Republicans took over – a by-product of what is, frankly, an outdated system of delaying the transition of power after such an election. Obama was wrong to do that, but, to use another cliché, two wrongs don’t make a right.
As on healthcare, the Republican leadership needs to come up with a viable alternative to Obama’s executive action, and let the courts strike it down as unconstitutional down the road. Tying national security, of all things, to Obama’s immigration policy is just plain stupid – and it isn’t going to work. If Republicans expect to be taken seriously as an alternative government, not merely an opposition, they need to set out serious policy proposals and get legislation passed through Congress. If they continue down this road of blind opposition without proposing alternatives, they will have already dealt a serious blow to whoever wins the Presidential nomination next year.
Precedent should be enough to tell them this is a bad idea. It’s better to climb down and face the momentary embarrassment that would bring than to drag this fight out for days or weeks when everyone can see there’s no chance of winning. Obama won’t back down – he has the media on side, for goodness’ sake. He has no reason to back down, because he knows shutting down any part of the government will play well for him politically. This is a lame-duck President who should be increasingly irrelevant, whose pitiful legacy of one major legislative accomplishment should right now be in jeopardy. This is not a man who should be dominating the discussion, but he is. Why? Because the Republicans are playing right into his hand. They’re damning themselves and damaging their future electoral chances, and Obama knows it.
I hope that Speaker Boehner can find a way to back down quietly before it’s too late. We can all agree that Obama is wrong on immigration, but him being wrong doesn’t mean the Republicans are right by default. They don’t even have an alternative plan, save for vague comments about “border security”. The next two years – or rather, eighteen months – offer the GOP its first chance in eight years to show that they are capable of governing, and that they can be a responsible governing party. Shutting down part of the government doesn’t accomplish that. The message gets lost in the method. And the message is very important, it’s one the American people need to hear. So Boehner, pick a different method to deliver it. Back down on the shutdown.
Speaker Boehner did, thankfully, step back from the brink. Congress is a master at stalling and delaying, and by granting himself a two-week extension Boehner has bought himself and his party colleagues a little time to figure out an alternative strategy. For a slow-moving body like Congress, though, two weeks isn’t a great deal of time. Having backed himself into a corner, Boehner will have to work hard to turn things around and present a viable alternative to Obama’s immigration package. Defunding DHS wasn’t a good idea, and it’s weakened Boehner’s hand pretty substantially, but the costs of backing down now are less bad than the costs of being blamed for shutting down a vital government department. It was the least bad option for Boehner, and he made the right choice from his limited options.