For those, including your humble and obedient ink-stained wretch, who spend too much time following government and politics, there is no shortage of opportunities to document the nature and scope of the current dysfunction. But here’s one that happened to land in my inbox that, in no spectacular way — in fact, in a now altogether ordinary way — provides an entry point for understanding where we are.
It is a press release from Americans for Limited Government (ALG) attacking one of its own, Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, who voted for the most recent “clean bill” funding the budget of the Department of Homeland Security.
In this instance, “clean bill” means this version of the department’s budget that didn’t explicitly prohibit the executive branch from using any of the funds to implement President Obama’s executive orders to halt deportation efforts against various categories of immigrants who entered the country illegally.
In one general press release (and smaller localized ones focusing on the vote of each of each target), ALG doesn’t just disagree with the 75 Republicans who voted in favor of “cleanly” funding DHS, doesn’t just criticize them for doing so, ALG accuses them of cowardice, or aiding and abetting “the shredding of the U.S. Constitution,” and of violating their oath of office by voting to keep the Department of Homeland Security open with all of its employees getting paid.
As you can tell by the name, Americans for Limited Government is a righty group that thinks government does too much. And, as you can see if you take its name literally, it seeks to imply that anyone who favors the government doing anything that ALG thinks the government shouldn’t do must be in favor of “unlimited government,” although in a literal sense that describes almost no Americans. This is part of the modern way of using language to turn honest policy differences into clashes between darkness and light.
ALG and John Kline are, in a general sense, on the same side of the great policy divide and on the narrower set of contemporary issues relating to immigration and deportation. Kline consistently voted for building a fence on the border and opposes efforts to make it easier for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country.
ALG and Kline both oppose Obama’s executive orders granting “clemency” to certain categories of undocumented immigrants and both agree that he exceeded his constitutional authority in issuing them.
Their differences on the recent vote come down to the question of whether House Republicans should have continued to insist on blocking funding for Obama’s orders after it was clear that to do so would mean the shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, furloughing many of its employees and requiring others to work without pay.
In the end, the whole thing had a bit of a kabuki theater quality. The Republican leadership in both houses of Congress has decided, and has announced, that it is anxious to avoid actions that make the party look too radical, crazy or dangerous. Trying to impeach Obama, risking the credit rating of the United States by refusing the raise the debt ceiling and shutting down important departments of the government are on the list of things they fear might make them look that way. Undoubtedly, there was some discussion behind closed doors and probably some polling about which party the public would blame if the Homeland Security shutdown had occurred, and it was concluded that the Republicans would be blamed.
So a certain number of Republicans had to join almost all the Democrats to pass the funding bill. The majority of House Republicans did vote in favor shutting down the department (although technically, all they favored was passing a bill to fund the department that would not have become law and ultimately would have resulted in a shutdown). Among House Republicans it was 167-75 (with three not voting) to reject the “clean” bill. But with all Democrats who voted (six did not vote), those 75 Republicans created a majority to end the “shutdown” crisis for now.
So to call this an example of the current dysfunction, as I did above, might be an overstatement. In our strangely structured constitutional form of government, when control of various top power positions is divided across party lines (as it usually is), compromises or bipartisan coalitions are necessary for almost any action to occur. ‘Twas ever thus.
But this action was not really a compromise. Obama, believing (correctly, after six years of waiting for it to happen) that a compromise immigration law could not reach his desk, chose to stretch the limits of his executive authority (using a power that he had previously said he lacked) to grant a form of “amnesty” to portion of the undocumented immigrants. The time to compromise was past and the Republicans had to choose between surrender and shutdown. After a couple of acts of the kabuki play in which they acted like they might choose shutdown, they chose a form of surrender that required only a third of their number to leave their fingerprints on the document of surrender.
Punish or threaten
Then comes a group like ALG to punish or at least threaten the quislings who collaborated. One of the reasons for the current dysfunction is that certain important players and funders and presidential aspirants, disproportionately on the Republican side, have decided that compromise is bad. So, at the end of a sad story like this one, they put out a press release shaming the quislings and warning them against future acts of similar perfidy.
Reps. Kline, Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer — all three voted for the “clean” homeland security bill — represent relatively (but not extremely) safe Republican districts. It used to be that an entrenched incumbent House member didn’t have to worry much about a primary challenge. But the new normal, especially on the Republican side, is that many incumbents do have to worry about a Tea Party-ish or Libertarian or Moral Majoritarian primary challenger. And one of the ways to bring such a challenge upon oneself is to be among the rank-breakers from the righty line on an issue like “amnesty for illegal immigrants.”
Personally, I don’t believe the three Minnesotans have that much to worry about on that score. And they were not singled out for the ALG treatment. But the ALG denunciation is intended to warn all of the 75 rank-breakers that they need to worry constantly about drifting toward the mushy center or toward future hideous acts of compromise.
Here’s the full text of the ALG press release, which ends with a list of the traitorous 75:
“Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning today issued the following statement condemning 75 House Republicans who voted to fund President Barack Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty for 4.5 million illegal immigrants with U.S.-born children:
“The vote to fund President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty will have a profound negative impact on our nation for years to come. The 75 Republicans who lost courage have aided and abetted the shredding of the U.S. Constitution by giving Obama the funds to rewrite federal law.
“Each of these Republicans took an oath of office less than two months prior to their vote. And in that oath, they swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Their failure may forever put Congress in a junior rubberstamp role for any presidential action. There is a time when every elected official is forced to make a choice. Unfortunately, the cowardly 75 chose to violate their oaths and break trust with America.
“I sincerely hope that the 75 find the heart to stand up to the President in the many upcoming battles.”
Correction: As originally published, this post contained an inaccurate description of a group active in immigration matters. FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, is not liberal advocacy group, as I described it, but a very conservative one. I have removed the inaccurate reference and appreciate the MinnPost reader who called the error to my attention. EB.