Republicans wage war on good government, and no one notices

A FEMA funding bill stalls in the Senate despite attracting a majority of the vote, to the surprise of no one

Published September 13, 2011 2:45PM (EDT)

Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Jeff Sessions
Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Jeff Sessions

Republicans are probably just as surprised as anyone that it turns out that there are no political consequences for unprecedented legislative obstructionism. They have just kept at it for so long that it's no longer a fresh story. It has, in fact, become just the way things are, that proposals that in past Congresses would've been utterly uncontroversial a few years ago now require 60 votes to be considered. Did you know that a vote to fund FEMA failed in the Senate yesterday?

It failed, of course, with a majority of the vote. Fifty-three voted to proceed with the bill, and 33 senators voted no. The $6.9 billion in funding was attached to a non-controversial bill renewing sanctions on the government of Burma. Only one senator bothered to argue against the bill before a small minority quietly blocked it.

“Has anybody given any serious thought to that? “asked Sessions. “Seven billion dollars? The state of Alabama’s general budget is $2 billion. Seven billion is a lot of money. We have not looked at it, we have not thought about it.”

“I strongly oppose adding another debt spending bill that we haven’t carefully examined every penny of it to make sure it’s all necessary and appropriate,” Sessions continued.

They haven't thought about it yet! Jeff Sessions has been so busy doing ... stuff, that he has not yet had time to consider whether or not he thinks the government should appropriate disaster relief funds. It costs less to run Alabama than it does to clean up after a couple earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes spread across the entire continent! (Alabama might be running stuff on the cheap in part because it relies on the federal government to pay for things like disaster relief? Just a thought.)

This isn't a complicated proposal for a new federal program requiring careful review. This is money that will go to an established government agency that is already doing its important and necessary work. We can argue about how we should fund FEMA in the long term, but in the short term, stuff needs to get cleaned up, right now, and FEMA needs money to do so.

Not that there is a considered ideological statement behind blocking the money. It was just blocked because the Republicans now block things. That's what they do. Hold every bill hostage or kill it completely, let nominees twist in the wind, and take every negotiation right to the brink of full-blown catastrophe.

The debt ceiling fight, which usually involves a bit of minor grandstanding before everyone does what they always do, now ends with Standard & Poor's declaring that our political system is too dysfunctional to deal with non-manufactured crises. Billions of dollars were lost and airport upgrade projects were stalled because Republicans decided to use the routine extension of FAA funding as an opportunity to strike a blow against organized labor. (The FAA is currently operating on short-term extension bills because no one believes Congress could pass long-term funding of the FAA.)

This is a war on the basic functionality of the federal government, not any sort of philosophical conservative attack on government overreach. Denying political "victories" to political opponents is the primary goal here, and the fact that making government dysfunctional gives heft to the argument that government can't be trusted is really just a nice side benefit.

But Republicans are only willing to pull this because they've figured out that everyone just blames "Congress" for the sabotage of a specific minority of ideologues.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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