In politically gridlocked Washington, both sides are frustrated. Each is basically blaming its failures on the opposition’s misuse of powers.
House Speaker John Boehner launched the latest round, seeking to halt U.S. President Barack Obama’s repeated use of executive actions to bypass congressional resistance to his "year of action." Obama has revised procedures for his signature health care law that a normally functioning Congress should have fixed, granted amnesty to thousands of young immigrants in the country illegally, limited carbon emissions from power plants, and refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.
Boehner announced he will sue Obama on grounds that these actions are unconstitutional. Though it’s questionable he can win a legal struggle, his move illustrated Republican frustration over action or inaction by the Democratic Senate and administration blocking GOP initiatives like the repeal of Obamacare. It also headed off more rabid colleagues eager to start impeachment proceedings against Obama.
After all, unlike younger colleagues, Boehner was in the House when its 1998 drive to impeach President Bill Clinton backfired politically against the GOP.
This new exchange erupted at a time when three concurrent events reminded many of how things used to be — or could be — between the president and Congress.
First was the death at 88 of former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker of Tennessee. He epitomized the bipartisan co-operation that marked the Senate a generation ago.
Second was the Republican primary runoff in Mississippi. Veteran Sen. Thad Cochran defeated his tea party challenger by forming the kind of bipartisan coalition that is rare these days, attracting support from primarily Democratic African-Americans. It’s the kind of coalition Boehner has steadfastly rejected in the House.
Third was a report by the Bipartisan Policy Centre, formed by four ex-Senate majority leaders including Baker, proposing an array of mostly modest proposals to reduce polarization of the nation’s politics.
The centre developed those recommendations after a series of town halls. (My wife, Susan Page of USA Today, moderated the sessions but played no role in developing the recommendations.)
Some of the proposals would reinstitute routine procedures: regular monthly meetings between the president and congressional leaders, five-day Senate and House workweeks, and a return to regular congressional procedures, including guaranteed votes on amendments.
Other proposals might have more impact, like urging states to adopt the kind of bipartisan redistricting commissions being used in Iowa and California to increase the number of competitive congressional districts, and to "strive to dramatically increase the number of voters" in primaries and general elections through expanded voter registration.
The report ranged from some wishful thinking, for instance, creating "a single, national congressional primary date in June," to logical ideas like adopting a two-year federal budget process such as the one used by many states including Texas. Among the nongovernmental proposals is the oft-suggested idea requiring all Americans between 18 and 28 to pursue a year of voluntary service — in the military, the Peace Corps, or in a non-profit or religious organization.
In the current climate, it will be surprising if many of the Bipartisan Policy Centre proposals are adopted.
Meanwhile, this week saw renewed verbal fire between Obama and Boehner. When the president sought $2 million to deal with the flood of immigrants from Central America, he disclosed that Boehner recently told him the House will not vote on any immigration bill this year, even one of its own.
As a result, the president said he’ll try to "fix as much of our immigration system as I can, on my own, without Congress.
"If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions," he added pointedly, "the best solution to that is passing bills."
Boehner brushed that off with a familiar excuse. Because of Obama’s actions, the speaker said, "The American people and their elected officials don’t trust him to enforce the law as written. Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue."
Or, putting it directly: "No."
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.
— The Dallas Morning News