House Republicans Fail Civics, Put Jobs at Risk

UPDATE 3:15 P.M.: In order to keep funding from lapsing entirely, the U.S. Senate just approved the House’s short-term extension, despite the House’s unwillingness to consider the bipartisan Senate compromise. So, as predicted, we’ll be having the same fight again in a few months.

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Here they go again: the Republican majority in the U.S. House is—to re-use a phrase that has become tedious by now—about to risk our economic recovery through a crisis of their own making. This time, it’s hundreds of thousands of construction jobs at risk as highway funding is set to expire.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Senate passed—in a bipartisan 74-22 vote—a two-year highway funding bill that would keep money flowing to local highway projects—which is good not just for the communities who rely on these roads and the workers who maintain them, but also for the people who manufacture construction equipment and materials and businesses whose customers and employees rely on those roads. This is simple, basic, intro-to-civics-level stuff: the government funds the building and upkeep of roads, and citizens and businesses benefit.

Where we run right into a brick wall is that a sizable portion of the Republican caucus in the House are indifferent or even hostile to these intro-level functions of governance—and the leaders of the Republican caucus have made it clear they’re not interested in passing any bill that doesn’t get every vote it needs to pass from their own side. That gives the hardest-right, most ideological component of the caucus an enormous amount of power over legislation, and actively deters attempts to build bipartisan compromise bills like the one that passed the Senate.

Highway funding expires at the end of this month, which, if you’ll consult your calendar, is two days away. And Congress is set to go on recess at the end of this week. Today’s Republican strategy is to ignore the Senate bill entirely and pass a 90-day extension instead, which just pushes the same fight another few months into the future. Hanging in the balance? About 2 million jobs, by some estimates.

This is no way to run a government. Giving new meaning to the term “buyers’ remorse,” even the big business interests that helped put this Republican majority in office in 2010 are getting tired of the repeated manufacturing of crises:

There could be real-world consequences to the conservative rebellion. The 90-day extension of the highway trust fund that House Republican leaders say they will pass this week in lieu of a broad highway bill would keep existing projects moving for now. But business groups say few new government-funded infrastructure projects can get under way without longer-range certainty about federal backing.

We’ve seen the pattern again and again—on the debt ceiling, the payroll tax and unemployment insurance, FAA authorization and the simple continuation of government operations. The most extreme segment of the Republican caucus is perfectly willing to turn every routine legislative fight into an emergency, in ways that threaten jobs and could stall the economic recovery. And whether it’s out of shared ideology, fear of an in-caucus coup or the wish to deny victories to President Obama, Speaker Boehner and his leadership team are willing to let them run the show.

Government-by-tantrum is bad for the economy, but it’s also just kind of embarrassing.