Funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out in less than two weeks if Congress doesn’t act to authorize new appropriations, and it’s looking more and more like the department is headed towards a shutdown. House Speaker John Boehner stopped by "Fox News Sunday" this past weekend to talk about the DHS funding fight and was asked if he was prepared to let DHS funding run out, and Boehner said: “Certainly. The House has acted. We've done our job.”
The “job” Boehner referred to was the legislation the House passed making the funding of DHS contingent upon the rolling back of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration over the years. Democrats in the Senate are filibustering that bill, so it is effectively dead. Throughout the "Fox News Sunday interview," though, Boehner was adamant that he’d done all he needed to do to fund DHS and would not do anything more: “The House has acted to fund the department and to stop the president's overreach… The House acted… the House has done its job… the House has acted. We’ve done our job… the House has done its job under the Constitution.”
As a factual matter, Boehner is correct when he remarks with unseemly triumphalism that he has literally done the bare minimum required of him by the Constitution: he passed a bill. Congratulations! What Boehner hasn’t done, however, is his “job,” at least as he has defined it.
In January, as the world was transfixed by the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, Boehner and all the other Republican leaders in Congress sought to reassure everyone that funding the Department of Homeland Security was their top priority. “Our goal here is to fund the Department of Homeland Security,” Boehner said at a mid-January news conference. “Our second goal is to stop the president’s executive overreach.” The legislative strategy he implemented and is now defending accomplishes neither of those two goals – his funding bill can’t get past the Senate, and even if it did Obama would veto it. If his top priority really is the funding of DHS, then he’d abandon his failed strategy and do the actual “job” of legislating. Instead he’s standing pat and, in typically Boehner-ish fashion, accusing everyone else of failing.
Assuming this dynamic doesn’t change before the end of the month, DHS will plunge into a “shutdown.” The vast majority of the department’s employees will still have to show up to work and do their national security jobs, but they won’t get paid. Boehner’s thinking is that blame for the shutdown will fall on the Democrats in the Senate – he said as much on "Fox News Sunday." But, once again, we find a bit of tension between what John Boehner sees and what is actually happening in the real world. CNN polling finds that 53 percent of the country would blame Republicans in Congress if DHS goes into shutdown. Just 30 percent would blame Obama. And that’s to be expected given that we’re only in this situation because Republicans are demanding a ransom for funding DHS (the fact that Republicans in Congress are enthusiastically blaming each other for the legislative impasse also probably contributes to the “it’s the Republicans’ fault” vibe).
The real purpose of all this posturing and tough talk from Boehner is to avoid publicly grappling with the reality that he has no good options. The Department of Homeland Security will be funded eventually, and the way it will be funded is with a clean appropriations bill that has the support of Democrats and the increasingly small coalition of Republicans who actually still care about the basic nuts and bolts of government. When that happens, Boehner will be attacked by his own conservative members as a pro-“amnesty” sellout and a traitor to conservative principles. In the meantime, if DHS funding actually does lapse, he and rest of his party will take it on the chin politically. They came into power promising that they could govern but couldn’t go two months without a shutdown.
Common sense would argue that the smart play would be to just bite the bullet, pass the funding legislation, and move on to more productive legislative pursuits. But that's not how Boehner rolls – when faced with a no-win situation, his standard play is to drag it out for as long as he can and make as much defiant noise as possible before finally caving to political reality. So once again we’re all left to sit and wait as Boehner prolongs the inevitable for no reason other than to prolong it. He’ll keep boasting that he’s done his job until the reckoning finally arrives, at which point he’ll actually have to do it.