When Will Republicans Start Governing?

What about the governing, Mr. Speaker?

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Mark your calendars: That partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, originally set for Friday at midnight, has been tentatively rescheduled for March 6. Because while the Senate managed on Friday to pass a bill to fund the department for the rest of the year, the House of Representatives did not, instead pushing through a one-week extension.

That means two things. The department will continue to hobble along under the threat of defunding. And some Republican members of the House will continue their pathetic rigmarole about executive overreach.

The department, which is responsible for mundane tasks such as preventing terrorist attacks, has been on a short leash. Congressional Republicans in January voted to fund it only until the end of February, linking its operations to their demand that President Barack Obama reverse his executive actions aimed at easing the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants and enabling them to apply for work permits.

The succeeding weeks produced a familiar melodrama, in which members of the party's Tantrum Caucus let off steam while their more responsible colleagues -- and the nation -- waited for party leaders to end the screaming and fund the government. This habit of holding hostage government funding has costs. First, it takes valuable legislative time away from more important business. Second, the constant resort to short-term funding -- known as continuing resolutions -- is inefficient, expensive and corrosive to effective government.

The title of a September 2009 General Accountability Office study tells the tale: "Continuing Resolutions: Uncertainty, Limited Management Options and Increased Workload in Selected Agencies." Hiring freezes upend personnel management, while the threat of Congress blithely cutting off paychecks is hardly an incentive for top-quality candidates to join government agencies. Wily government contractors increase their bids to cover the costs of budget uncertainty.

Of course, short-term funding is still better than no funding at all. But 2015 is the year Republicans said they would prove they can govern. Two months have passed -- dominated by a pointless and still unresolved fight over vital funding for homeland security. When does the governing begin?

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.