Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 23, 2014

No Procedure Can Fix This Tumbling House of Cards

When I was 4 years old, two kids ages 10 and 12 invited me to play castle. They instructed me to stand still in the middle of the living room, arms at my sides, while they erected four walls using large, cardboard building blocks. When the walls were well over my head, they asked whether I could get out. I lifted my arms straight out from my sides and began pivoting back and forth, bringing the walls tumbling down to my squeals of delight.

I remembered that little game shortly before Congress left town for its August recess. The House was in particular disarray that final week.  The leadership pulled the transportation-HUD appropriations bill midstream because there weren’t enough votes on the majority side to pass it: Half thought it too harsh, and half thought it didn’t go far enough. No Goldilocks solution was in sight.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., was spittin’ mad that Congress was still stewing in its own sequestration juices and called for its repeal. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, on the other hand, counter-vowed to let the sequester fester until the president came up with his own cuts (without tax increases).

House and Senate Republican caucuses were split over whether to shut down the government if the president didn’t cave on repealing his signature health care law (with the House GOP still divided today over how to do it).

Meantime, the House was treading water debating “message” bills that everyone knew would go nowhere in the Senate. It was part of Republicans’ “stop government abuse week” to highlight various executive branch scandals, shortcomings and overreaches. However, Republican backbiting and infighting made any government abuse look like an inside job.

Members seemed intent on bringing the walls of their own house of cards tumbling down. Only this wasn’t child’s play, and no one was squealing with delight.

Everyone knew that September’s song would be short — only nine legislative days (which may now be extended another five if next week’s House recess is canceled). Congress will at best fall back on government-by-continuing-resolution for the fourth consecutive year. Or, at worst, it will shut down the government. Between sequestration and CRs, Congress has put government on autopilot with no apparent aptitude to make smart course corrections.

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