Remember back when John Boehner said he was resigning from the U.S. House of Representatives and his impending departure from leadership spurred approval of a two-year budget framework and an increase in the debt ceiling that would prevent another government shutdown? Oh, please. That was so two months ago.
In the latest sign of how little things change on Capitol Hill, Congress is once again pushing spending deadlines to the brink as the Senate approved Thursday and House is expected to consider Friday a short-term extension to keep the federal government afloat. No one is talking "shutdown" necessarily but it's not outside the realm of possibilities if the vote doesn't happen before midnight — a depressing indicator that late-hour brinkmanship hasn't gone completely out of fashion despite the arrival of House Speaker Paul Ryan.
What Mr. Ryan is seeking, a few more days to bang out a stop-gap measure that would keep the federal government funded through next fall, sounds reasonable, but he's also getting hammered by conservatives who want an even longer extension so they can force Democrats to accept a number of policy riders. That kind of partisan ornamentation nailed on this budgetary Christmas tree could easily ruin everyone's holiday season.
Let's set the record straight. The only reason that Mr. Boehner was able to get his two-year deal in the first place was with overwhelming Democratic support. It would be unwise to wander too far from that bipartisan framework with measures like suspending U.S. acceptance of refugees from Syria and Iraq unless the secretary of Homeland Security and directors of the FBI and National Intelligence personally signed off on each individual, an impossible standard.
Another potential rider that shouldn't be forgotten: Defunding Planned Parenthood, an especially counter-productive effort considering how family planning services reduce the need for abortions and how the organization uses no federal dollars for abortions anyway but does use them for cancer screenings. The timing couldn't be worse, too, given how the man accused of killing three people at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs announced in open court last Wednesday that he is a "warrior for the babies." Talk about supporting domestic terrorism.
Republicans are certainly welcome to pursue any of these policy ideas with separate legislation. The Senate voted to defund Planned Parenthood just last week. That's how Congress is supposed to work. But attaching them as riders to a budget resolution is how one gets government shutdowns — Senate Democrats can't be expected to sit on their hands nor will President Barack Obama and his veto pen ignore bad policy choices.
That's why budgets are the wrong place to make decisions about anything other than what the federal government should be financing and how much money should be spent. Dealing with immigration is a matter to be discussed and debated on its own — that Congress is even focusing on refugees who are already heavily screened instead of those individuals who arrive in the United States as students, spouses or tourists who don't face nearly as much scrutiny has already demonstrated how ill-equipped lawmakers are to act in this area anyway.
Wasn't the fact that 2016 is a presidential election year supposed to give Republicans an added incentive to behave rationally? Surely, the rise of Donald Trump and the way his unreconstructed bigotry has endeared him to a certain segment of GOP voters isn't going to result in Congressional copycats thumbing their collective noses at Mr. Ryan so quickly? Is the Trump model that compelling or, conversely, is the White House such a lost cause for a party dragged so deeply into the mud that even Dick Cheney has spoken out?
Please pardon the hyperventilating. It's entirely possible the short-term extension is a proverbial blip on the radar and Mr. Ryan will have his deal in place by next Wednesday, a nice little holiday gift to a country dealing with enough bad news. Recently, the satiric newspaper, The Onion, ran an amusing little headline, "Report Finds Populace Has Collective Goodwill To Come Together For Only 5 More National Tragedies," that hit pretty close to home. Santa, all we want for Christmas is a little bit of rational behavior out of the legislative branch — and a spending plan that doesn't require a government shutdown.