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COMMUNITY VOICE

In endless game of border chicken, the American people lose

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - 12:01 am

To be completely fair, Congress doesn’t always just make decisions before taking a break: Sometimes they don’t make decisions at all.

Or one side – House or Senate (or both) – makes a last-minute decision that it knows full well is unacceptable to the other.

When I was young, I remember a somewhat older student dying playing a game of “chicken” with two cars going around “dead man’s curve” side by side. Neither was a chicken. One died. Congressional negotiations – internally within both parties, in the Senate and the House, plus the president – play “chicken” all the time. Leverage for both sides is greatest before a break.

Perhaps you have noticed that Congress takes many breaks from their often three-day workweeks. The longest is August, when Congress is off until after Labor Day because Washington is in a swamp. At least that was the reason before the invention of air conditioning, and they find the excuse useful. House members must run for election every two years, so the August recess prior to a fall election becomes a game of super-chicken.

Between Labor Day and the fall election, especially if a battle for control has the prospect of being close (e.g., the Republicans could capture Senate control this fall), it is unlikely that in the brief couple of fall congressional work weeks anything will be done.

Next January, a new Congress will be sworn in. This means that all legislation that has progressed through subcommittees and committees in both the House and Senate must start the process over again, because the past Congress cannot bind a future one.

One could take this position: No action is the best action. Many times I did. If you are a Republican and you have a Republican president, that works. Not so much if you are a Republican with a Democratic president.

The president has the power of the pen to issue executive orders. The courts have shown a willingness to check it at times if the president is trying to circumvent an active Congress. They have not done much limiting of Republicans or Democrats if the lawyers of the White House draw the orders tight enough and the Congress has refused to deal with the problem.

Bottom line is this: By not compromising on border issues, it is likely that President Obama has a lot of flexibility to react to the “emergency” border situation, since it is highly unlikely Congress will take serious action until 2015 (if then).

The courts are likely to uphold his decisions, whether I or others think his orders were constitutional or not. It is likely the American people will continue to lose in this endless game of chicken.

Mark Souder is a former 3rd District congressman.