Reprising a scene that lawmakers have acted out too often in the last four years, Congress is heading for a partial government shutdown this week because of a Republican attempt to repeal one of President Obama's high-profile initiatives.
The fight this time is over a proposal to block funding for Obama's executive actions on immigration, which Republicans have tacked onto a bill to keep the Department of Homeland Security open through Sept. 30. As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) warned last year, the GOP has ridden into a "box canyon" on this one.
Obama outraged congressional Republicans in November when he temporarily ruled out deportations for millions of longtime residents who live in the country illegally but are otherwise law-abiding. Some members wanted to withhold funding for the entire federal government unless Obama's executive actions were repealed, just as they'd sought to "defund Obamacare" the year before. GOP leaders were still smarting from that disastrous episode, yet they weren't ready to accept a compromise on a full-year spending bill. So they agreed to fund every agency through Sept. 30 except Homeland Security, whose money runs out Friday.
The problem with that strategy is that it was predicated on Obama somehow changing his mind about the executive order after Republicans took control of the Senate, which he — predictably — has not done. Worse, the Homeland Security bill the House GOP passed would block not just the latest executive actions, but the one from 2012 that temporarily deferred deportations of those who'd been brought into the country as children. The latter has broad public support.
Some GOP leaders have suggested that it wouldn't be a problem if the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, the Secret Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other Homeland Security divisions go without funding, because workers essential to public safety would have to stay on the job, albeit without pay. That's a shameful thing to ask of any employee, let alone those who put themselves in harm's way. The deeper problem, though, is that Republicans aren't even trying to fix the badly broken immigration system. That inertia is what prompted Obama's executive actions. If Republicans don't like what he's done, the solution isn't to go back to the failed status quo.
Luckily for the GOP, a deus ex machina arrived last week in the form of a federal judge granting a temporary injunction against Obama's latest executive actions. The ruling provides the opportunity for a graceful exit while the case works its way through appeals. Leave the legality of Obama's action to the courts and fund the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year. Republicans have control of both chambers now; it's time they tried to fix the problems in immigration law.