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Douglas: D.C. Déjà Vu

On February 27, at the stroke of midnight, if Democrats and Republicans in Congress can't reach agreement, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will expire. It’s the agency responsible for border and transportation security, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, FEMA and immigration, among other entities; it’s the 3rd largest Federal department. More than 30,000 employees would be furloughed; federal grants, including those for disaster relief, could be delayed and many contracts would be at risk. During the last government shutdown, Revision Military, a successful Vermont manufacturer, was forced to lay off 23 workers at its Newport Center facility. The current potential for a partial shutdown provides a window into the real world consequences of the sad state of play in our nation's capital.

Last year, responding to Congress's inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform, President Obama issued a series of Executive Actions. Whether they’ll help our immigration challenges remains to be seen, but the fact that the President issued them in an effort to circumvent the Congressional process is troubling. This precedent should concern Congressional Democrats since it might well mean Democratic Senators will face similar Executive Action issued by the next Republican President. We have 3 branches of government for a reason - to provide checks and balances and ensure that none exerts inordinate power over another.

In Montpelier I met often with state legislators, regardless of party, and knew many well. Those relationships are critical to forging the compromises necessary for successful governance. Congressman Peter Welch hosts dinners at his Washington home with his Republican colleagues and, as a result, is able to work across the aisle to pass bipartisan legislation that benefits Vermonters and other Americans. But relationships require hard work and a sustained effort. Unfortunately, the President has never made relations with Congress a priority. Even Democrats have complained that he’s often absent and seems uninterested. Some say they had more interaction with President Bush.

Congressional Republicans certainly share the blame - relationships are a two-way street, after all. In this latest case, the House passed a funding bill for Homeland Security that would rescind the President's Executive Action. Senate Democrats refuse to let the bill even come up for a vote and now the clock is ticking again. Sadly, that clock and this stalemate - this relationship impasse - could have very real consequences for Vermonters. This is the latest in a long line of recent examples where folks in Washington just can’t get their act together. It’s time for everyone to check egos and party labels at the door.