In all likelihood, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will expire at the end of next week. While this event won’t be the crisis some are predicting, what happens next will have enormous implications on the GOP’s ability to pursue its agenda for the rest of the year and into 2016.
Let’s recall why we’re here. As Speaker of the House John Boehner has argued, the House had to take action to block President Obama’s executive order granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. At stake was not just immigration policy per se but the integrity of our constitutional system of government, which forbids presidents from making it up as they go along. Our nation, after all, is based on the rule of law, not the rule of rulers.
As a matter of principle and policy, the House is on solid ground. The House has passed a bill funding DHS and Senate Democrats are filibustering it. Speaker Boehner’s decision to fight this battle to the deadline, and perhaps even past it, is entirely reasonable. He’s right that Senate Democrats won’t “get off their ass” – as he put it colorfully – and pass a bill because they’re happy to cede their constitutional authority to the president.
The key test, however, involves what happens after the deadline has passed. If Republicans are satisfied with achieving their limited goals of taking a serious, principled stand for the rule of law and portraying Senate Democrats as left-wing obstructionists, and then ultimately agree to a short-term extension, they’ll come out ahead. The endgame message will be simple: We wouldn’t let Senate Democrats jeopardize our nation’s security any longer.
“The only way we can truly overturn President Obama’s executive order is by turning things over to a new executive.”
But if they insist on not “surrendering” based on flawed tactical advice that is rooted not in serious conservatism but Mayberry McCarthyism – the claptrap of bullies without portfolios – they’ll do enormous damage to the conservative cause on all fronts. This false moral outrage and posturing is good for campaigns but terrible for the country.
The core GOP dispute in the DHS fight is not about policy but tactics and base politics. The tactical reality is the GOP doesn’t have the firepower to achieve total victory as defined by overturning or “defunding” President Obama’s executive order. The only way we can truly overturn President Obama’s executive order is by turning things over to a new executive. In fact, President Obama issued his order in part to tempt the GOP into mounting a Pickett’s charge against his policy.
Yet, in a perverse way, some in the GOP are as eager as President Obama to see such a charge. Therein lies the danger for the GOP. This debate is already a “please don’t primary me” moment for House members who fear potential criticism and challengers. If that sentiment prevails they would be putting their own short-term political interests ahead of the country and the cause of conservatism, which is hardly courageous or “standing firm.”
Of course, when this fight stops being a smart and limited strategic raid and becomes a vain and futile charge is unknowable. But at some point it will become counterproductive, and perhaps disastrous, because President Obama and Senate Democrats have zero incentive to change their position. Why stop Republicans from cutting themselves rather than the budget?
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (far right) and a cadre of House conservatives have led the charge against Pres. Obama’s unconstitutional immigration order. But at what point does a smart tactical raid turn into a doomed Pickett’s charge?
The smart move for the GOP is to achieve a limited strategic victory followed by a tactical retreat where we can fight the same fight on higher ground of our choosing. That ground is called “regular order” or the appropriations process Congress hasn’t used in nearly a decade. Regular order will give the GOP the moral and constitutional authority to review not just immigration but the entire Department of Homeland Security.
If the GOP decides to talk about the Department of Homeland Security in the context of the Department of Homeland Security bill – imagine that – and not just immigration, they’ll have a lot to talk about.
In his final oversight report, Senator Coburn issued a blistering critique of DHS that lays out a potential GOP plan B. He found an agency in charge of the nation’s cybersecurity that can’t secure its own networks, an agency that has spent $50 billion over the past eleven years without demonstrating added security for our nation, an agency charged with border security that lets 97 percent of illegals through, and more.
Members like Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), who may be the poster child of Mayberry McCarthyism, are openly threatening to block any tactical retreat that would make this debate possible. Specifically, he wants to block passage of any House rule that would allow the House to consider a short-term funding bill for DHS. This “strategy” has the potential of undoing historic GOP gains on spending (we’ve been living under a de facto freeze for five years) and consuming valuable time on a Pickett’s charge instead of other priorities that will do far more to limit government and expand freedom, liberty and economic opportunity.
Senator Coburn’s report shows Congress where to go and his tactical prowess on spending restraint is equally instructive. On issues like earmarks, Coburn was not a coward for not promising instant victory, and neither will Republicans who decide to make their point and then fight from higher ground another day.
John Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @johnhart333.