Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

In Washington, the GOP's 'possum act' has played out

The Republicans had a great mid-term, taking the Senate and increasing their margin in the House. In public opinion polls, more Americans now say they identify as Republican than as Democratic.

And how have they achieved all that?

They did it by doing nothing. Literally, nothing. As far back as February, GOP leadership consciously embraced a strategy of doing nothing, and they worked very hard at doing nothing. They became good at it.

They proposed nothing to replace ObamaCare, they proposed nothing on immigration reform, they proposed nothing on tax reform. They stopped talking about shutdowns, and they blocked efforts to force a vote to authorize action against ISIS. Why? Because to even attempt to accomplish anything would expose the party's immense internal divisions, agitate the base and bring to the forefront its most radical, least popular elements.

Far better to play possum.

Now, however, they face a conundrum. They have to pass a budget measure by Dec. 11 to keep the government open, and GOP leaders are hoping to keep that possum act going just a little bit longer. They want to pass resolutions that merely extend current spending, without confronting President Obama over his executive action regarding immigration and thus risk a government shutdown.

But the conservatives within the GOP caucus are having none of it, and from their point of view, why should they? The entire GOP argument, from Boehner on down, has been that Obama's actions are unconstitutional. And with the midterm results, they now have what they take to be public validation for their point of view.

“So you just want me to fund the unconstitutional act for 60 days?” as Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona told Roll Call. “Isn’t that kind of like being a little bit pregnant? No, that doesn’t work for me.”

Rush Limbaugh is on the radio, telling the Dittoheads that the GOP leadership won't confront Obama because it is really supporting amnesty. "They can't come, after all of this, and act like they are as eager for amnesty as Obama, but they are," he claimed today. "We know it to be true.  We know the Republican establishment, we know the Chamber of Commerce, we know that many of the donors want amnesty."

Erick Erickson at RedState is sounding the alarm as well, warning that "both House and Senate leadership have no real intention of undoing the president’s unconstitutional executive amnesty. In fact, while they publicly act outraged, they’re secretly relieved, because the president has removed by executive fiat the single biggest obstacle to their long-running efforts to force comprehensive immigration reform through Congress."

As he spoke people in the audience waved signs reading "Obama's a traitor," "King Obama," and "Ted Cruz 2016."

This is how it's going to go for the next two years. Control of Congress -- and responsibility for running the government -- has been placed in the hands of people who have no control and who cannot bring themselves to compromise even with their fellow Republicans.

And this time, doing nothing is no longer an option for them. It ought to be fascinating, in the same dreadful sense that a train wreck is fascinating.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.