- - Wednesday, December 16, 2015


This is the Christmas season and nobody decorates a Christmas tree like Congress. The Republicans can get as deep into the Washington spirit of Christmas as any Democrat. House Speaker Paul Ryan and his negotiators will ask their Republican colleagues to vote Friday on a spending bill that will cost billions and run through the end of 2016.

Following a closed briefing of House Republicans on Tuesday, Mr. Ryan and his allies have been working to keep conservative members from voting against the measure, which would force him to rely on Democrats to move it to the Senate and then to the White House.

Earlier this week Mr. Ryan said he didn’t know whether he could persuade the Republican conservatives because despite the sugar plums he pinned on the tree some of them might vote the way they promised their constituents they would. Constituents are ornery but generous folk. Some of them believe, against all evidence, that politicians will actually do what they promise.

The dilemma Mr. Ryan found himself in during negotiations with the Democrats stemmed from the failure of the Senate to act on individual appropriation bills sent over earlier in the year, the looming deadline, the need to roll everything once more into an “omnibus,” and to the eagerness of perhaps a hundred of his Republican colleagues to trash it all if it does not include more money for defense. This gives President Obama the leverage to make intimidated Republicans dance to his tune.

The Republicans suffer the fear that if they object strongly to something President Obama wants, or fight too hard for what they want, the president will veto everything, ruin the Christmas recess and blame them for a government shutdown. Fear becomes controlling, and they seem ever ready to jump when Mr. Obama snaps his fingers or gives them a dark look.

A frightening example is how they rolled over when the Democrats opposed funding more intensive vetting of Syrian and other refugees, whom Mr. Obama regards as essential to stocking Democratic voting rolls for the next generation. Since the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, nearly two-dozen states have refused such refugees, the director of the FBI told Congress his agency can’t guarantee effective vetting, and it emerged that the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t even check a potential refugee for security concerns.

Poll after poll has demonstrated that the public wants additional screening, and before negotiations on the omnibus spending began, the Republican congressional leaders said they would demand either a pause in admitting refugees or adding effective vetting.

The Democratic leaders in the House adamantly refused to spend the money to tighten screening. The Republicans, predictably, caved. On becoming speaker, Mr. Ryan said he supported tightening the vetting of refugees; “it’s better,” he said, “to be safe than sorry.” It’s not that the new speaker hasn’t been busy. He dined with Nancy Pelosi and he’s working on a beard. But Mr. Ryan and his colleagues in the leadership seem not nearly as interested in being safe as the voters who sent them to Washington. It’s a sorry predicament we’re all in.

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