“Stalemate” in Congress over Executive Orders as DHS spending bill deadline approaches

With a one-party majority in both houses of Congress after the 2014 mid-term elections, observers have been watching for signs of greater cooperation, and die-hard optimists even hope for legislation addressing the country’s broken immigration system. Alas, political brinksmanship appears to remain the order of the day, as sparring continues despite the upcoming Congressional recess and the looming Department of Homeland Securityspending bill deadline, on February 27th. While there is bi-partisan agreement that, in the words of House Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), not funding DHS would be “dumb and dangerous,” congressional representatives continue to struggle over whether to send the President a “clean” bill or one modified by several proposed amendments. Failure to pass a spending bill would risk shutting down the agency, which would slow services and aggravate processing backlogs, as well as implicate national security.

While members of the House three times this month have pushed spending plans that included amendments severely rolling back the president’s recent executive orders (the EOs would temporarily shield up to an estimated five million undocumented aliens from deportation), Senate leaders have blocked the legislation, sending the bill back to the House. Despite the potential for a crisis should a bill not be signed before the deadline, politicians on both sides of the aisle appeared content to trade barbs and maintain hardline positions. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on February 11 commented, “We do not take this action lightly, but simply there is no alternative,” while Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the bill passed in the House “pointless,” and Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wryly commented, “They’re learning how difficult it is to govern.”

Regardless of the public posturing and rhetorical point-making, from statements by the President and his inner circle, the amendment issue likely will be moot. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson wrote in a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this week, “If a bill that includes such [restrictive] language comes to the president’s desk, his staff and I will recommend to the president that he veto it.”

It is high time for Congress to put aside the face saving and finger pointing to get down to the real business of governance and to take that most dreaded, but necessary medicine, compromise.