Editorials

As good as it gets?

Chambers of the 113th Congress
Chambers of the 113th Congress AP

Perhaps it’s the Christmas season, or, more likely, the beating they took in public opinion polls the last time they shut down the government, but either way House Republicans have apparently decided to reject calls from their deportation caucus to try that trick again.

This will probably be the last work week for the 113th Congress, which began in January of 2013, and during its tenure claimed the dubious prize of falling to the lowest level of public esteem in recent history. According to a Gallup Poll released in August, 83 percent of Americans surveyed said that they disapproved of the job Congress was doing, while only 13 percent said that they approved. That’s the lowest rating of any Congress since 1974, when data first started being collected.

The lawmakers are going out just the way they came in — fighting pointless, time-wasting battles against President Obama instead of trying to actually do the people’s business. Thus, last week, they approved a resolution by GOP Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida to halt implementation of the president’s order stopping the deportation of millions of unauthorized immigrants.

The vote is unlikely to have any real impact in terms of substance or effectiveness, but it allows angry members of the GOP to express their displeasure against the president, which apparently is their No. 1 priority. Kudos to Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of South Florida, who were among the handful of Republicans who voted No.

But there is a silver lining in this dark cloud over Capitol Hill. The vote represented a compromise of sorts among Republicans. By orchestrating this maneuver, Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team gave the more extreme members of their caucus a way to vent their spleen against the president instead of forcing another damaging government shutdown, as some of them had demanded.

The most important part of this tactic is an agreement among Republicans to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, so that Washington does not close down on Dec. 11. Excluded from that is the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration enforcement. That will apparently be funded only on a month-to-month basis as a reminder to the president that Republicans are still seething over his executive order. As if he needs a reminder.

It’s not much, we know, but we’ll take it. In today’s poisoned political climate inside the Beltway, this is as good as it gets, unfortunately.

Over on the Senate side, meanwhile, senators took on the president, as well, but in a far more interesting, and ultimately more significant way. They decided to begin debating Mr. Obama’s authority to wage war against the Islamic State, a long overdue test of his war powers that has support among both liberals and conservatives.

Given the fast-approaching end of this Congress’ tenure (Jan. 3) and the upcoming Christmas recess, the debate will probably be short-lived and may reach no lasting decision, but the need for a real debate is urgent. Thirteen years after Congress passed a 2001 authorization following the Sept. 11 attacks and then a 2002 authorization for the war on Iraq, it’s certainly time to revisit the entire issue.

Exactly how far can the president go in fighting terrorists in the Middle East without some explicit grant of authority from the branch of government that has the constitutional responsibility to declare war? It’s time to find out.

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