THE BLOG

In Washington, It's Politics vs. Problem Solving

07/22/2014 12:28 pm ET | Updated Sep 21, 2014
ASSOCIATED PRESS

How bad have things gotten in Washington? Two of the most basic functions of government are to protect the country's borders and to maintain the nation's infrastructure. The federal government can't do either one. Why not? One word: politics.

President Obama's diminished authority is one problem. When the president's job approval number is up, the president has clout. He can get what he wants out of Congress. The opposition party becomes cooperative.

When the president's numbers are down, his power dwindles. The opposition becomes defiant. He has trouble holding his own party in line. That happened to President Bush when his ratings started to drop in 2005. It's happening to President Obama now. Obama's job rating has been stuck in the low 40s all year.

We're seeing open defiance of the president by both Republicans and Democrats. When President Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with the border crisis, the Republican response was skeptical. "I can tell you this: we're not giving the president a blank check," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) replied. Republicans are demanding conditions, including at least a revision of the 2008 Wilberforce Act that guarantees hearings for child migrants who may be victims of human trafficking.

When President Obama indicated that he was willing to consider a revision of that law, Democrats went into revolt. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said he feared that changing the law would "take away the humanitarian aspects and the right of these people to seek asylum." The 27-member Congressional Hispanic Caucus -- all Democrats -- oppose any changes to the law. They succeeded in persuading House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to join them. "Is the only immigration bill we're going to have one that hurts children?" Pelosi asked.

The prospects for getting the president's border funding request through Congress are getting dimmer by the day. So are the prospects for the president's request to get Congress to approve long-term funding for the Highway Trust Fund. That fund, which is used for badly needed road and bridge repairs, will run out of money on August 1. It is funded by the federal gasoline tax, which has not been increased since 1993.

Because cars today are more fuel efficient, motorists use less gasoline to drive the same number of miles. If Congress doesn't do anything, the Department of Transportation is set to cut infrastructure spending by 28 percent. That could lead to the cancellation of 100,000 maintenance and repair projects around the country and cost 700,000 jobs. But Republicans are dead set against raising the gasoline tax, and Democrats are terrified of voter backlash. The best Congress can do is pass a temporary fix to May 15 -- safely past the midterm election -- that relies on fundraising gimmicks with no tax increase.

"Congress shouldn't pat itself on the back for averting disaster for a few months, kicking the can down the road... careening from crisis to crisis," President Obama said. "We should be investing in the future."

Public opinion is another problem. On both issues -- infrastructure spending and immigration -- the public is of two minds. They want something done, but every solution meets with resistance.

In the Huffington Post-YouGov poll, Americans were divided over whether the government should spend more money on infrastructure. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) are proposing a long-term fix that would raise the gasoline tax 6 cents annually for the next two years and tie further increases to inflation. Would motorists be willing to pay an additional 6 cents per gallon just in the first year? Only 30% say yes.

In the immigration crisis, Americans tend to support President Obama's request for more funding (by 53% to 43% in the Washington Post-ABC News poll). But they want the child migrants deported as soon as possible. By 47% to 38%, Americans say the priority should be to deport the children to their home country rather than let them stay in the U.S. until we are certain they can return to a safe place. In fact, the public is split over whether it is safe for them to return to their home countries. Republicans say it is. Democrats say it isn't.

Recently, former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin made a startling charge. Palin sees a sinister plot behind President Obama's inaction in the immigration crisis. "Opening our borders to a flood of illegal immigrants is deliberate," she wrote on Breitbart.com. "This is his fundamental transformation of America." To Palin and many other conservatives, the flood of illegal immigrants is part of a Democratic plan to create a New America that will sustain Democrats in power.

A Vox Populi poll asked Americans whether they agree that "the Obama Administration is actually coordinating this influx to increase Hispanic immigration." Thirty-seven percent said yes. The percentage of Republicans in the poll: 37.

Maryland State Police are investigating a possible hate crime, namely, graffiti spray-painted on the wall of a potential holding site for migrants. The message: "NO ILLEAGLES HERE. NO UNDOCUMENTED DEMOCRATS."