‘Speaking’ of Homeland Security…

So far, it is difficult to tell whether or not Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are out joyriding in mom and dad’s car in the middle of the night or if they’ve reached the senior moment when their licenses need to be revoked. Whatever the case may be, they now have the keys to the car, and we’re all along for the ride.

As of Tuesday morning, February 24, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is set for a shutdown this weekend. DHS employees (85 percent of the agency or approximately 200,000 individuals) deemed to be “essential” will be obligated to show up for work without pay, while tens-of-thousands of “nonessential” employees will be furloughed. This is the result of Republicans’ reaction to President Obama’s executive action on immigration; forgoing prosecution of several million undocumented immigrants. When the president announced his order, Republican leadership had the idea that their way to fight Obama was to hold hostage funding the DHS, specifically border patrol, a symbolic victim of their discontent.

Unfortunately for the rest of the country, the tangible effect this “shutdown” would be — other than affecting the hundreds of thousands of America’s vital security employees — to weaken homeland security, particularly at the border.

To be clear, unlike recent funding disputes, this has nothing to do with cutting spending; this is Congress trying to force its way into the game, screw the system. The hilarious irony of this (Shakespearian comedy) situation is that the system was going to fulfill Republican’s desired ends anyway, when a federal court issued an injunction staying the president’s action. So now Republicans in Congress are stuck between screaming, “See, we told you so,” and “I still want it.”

This is just the latest example of how the modern Republican-controlled Congress is big on playing games, while woefully inept at governing.

The situation is not easy for Speaker Boehner, who has to corral his conservative colleagues as well as his ultra-conservative, Tea Party, bleed-the-government-dry colleagues if he wants to get anything passed. Nevertheless, for his first four years as speaker, he has demonstrated an unwillingness to govern, or maybe its an incompetency.

This is where it sounds like a personal attack from the media; it is not. For starters, the speaker’s office sets the calendar for Congress’ work schedule. Already notorious for its holiday breaks and summer vacations, Congress under John Boehner spends only two out of every three weeks attempting to work in Washington; even on those work weeks, they are often truncated by starting Tuesday mornings or leaving late on Thursdays. Effectively, what this means for Representatives is that they have to attempt to squeeze all meetings, committee hearings, bill markups, votes, as well as the mandatory press availability and fundraising duties into less than two-thirds of the normal workday. This makes for exhausting, long and unproductive days, even when they are in Washington.

Congress cannot even pretend to function if they do not have enough time to actually conduct their business, and it is disturbing that the speaker refuses to recognize this problem.

Furthermore, sometime before or immediately after taking the oversized, overcompensating speaker’s gavel (OK, that was a personal cheap shot, but seriously look at that thing), he invoked the “Hastert rule.” The Hastert rule, named after former speaker Dennis Hastert, is not an actual rule, and it certainly does not show up in any high school textbooks or Schoolhouse Rock videos. It is a completely fabricated, gutless, partisan decision to insulate your own popularity within your party by requiring a “majority of the majority” to bring a bill to vote in the House — effectively rendering the minority party worthless.

Immigration reform would have passed and been signed into law if John Boehner would have simply allowed for a vote last year. It passed the Senate with a strong majority, 68-32, including 14 Republicans, and had more than enough bipartisan support to pass the House. Boehner refused, an action that knocked down the first domino leading ultimately to the president’s executive action, which in turn led us to the brink of the DHS shutdown.

I concede that Democrats participate in the gamesmanship as well, but they at least try to make government work. Republicans campaign as the star quarterback who, once elected, come into office and don’t believe in passing the ball down the field. You should have to believe in government’s functionality if you are going to participate in it.