It's not getting easier. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg
It's not getting easier. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg

House Republicans today killed their own bill on the immigration crisis, which may be just as well: It wasn't a bill so much as a meta-bill. Which is to say it was designed not to address the problem of scores of thousands of child immigrants showing up at the U.S.'s southern border, but the problem of Democrats saying House Republicans had failed to address the problem.

Now that they have failed to achieve even that modest goal -- the White House noted their failure within minutes -- the question is what happens next. The most likely answers aren’t encouraging, and the most encouraging answers aren’t likely.

President Barack Obama first asked for $3.7 billion in supplemental funding to help process some 57,000 undocumented minors. It wasn't a perfect plan by any means -- it spent too little on addressing the root causes of emigration in Central America -- but the substantive way forward wasn't hard to discern: Most House Republicans wanted to expedite removal of the children without a lot of administrative fuss. Most Senate Democrats wanted to ensure that due process was honored. Obama was somewhere in between.

How hard could it have been for Republicans, Democrats and the White House to reach a compromise here and get a bill passed? On the merits, not very. But this is Washington, where legislating -- like typewriter repair and horseshoeing -- is not something that's done much anymore.

House Republicans produced a bill that spent too much on border theatrics and too little ensuring legitimate refugee cases could be properly heard and administered. It started out at $1.5 billion, which was whittled to $659 million as they negotiated with themselves. They went downhill from there, attempting to placate the same implacable people they always attempt, fruitlessly, to placate. Senator Ted Cruz, apparently vying to become Speaker John Boehner's least favorite congressional Republican, sowed doubt about the bill among like-minded conservatives in the House -- even after Boehner had agreed to a vote on another bill to enable deportations for young undocumented "Dreamers."

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid openly mused about using the House bill as a vehicle for comprehensive immigration reform when it got back to the Senate -- an obvious attempt to spook anti-immigration forces into sinking the bill. And with no viable legislation on the horizon, Obama retreated from the center and tasked his departments with figuring out how to keep an overstretched government functioning until Congress can get its troubled act together.

The president, along with the nation, will have to wait. In a statement that might as well have announced the death of irony, House leaders called on the president to address the problem unilaterally -- one day after having voted to authorize a lawsuit against him for addressing problems unilaterally.

The protection of refugees -- legitimate and otherwise -- is both a moral crisis and a policy challenge. These children are a genuine strain on the immigration system, and adjudicating their cases will cost money. At the same time, many have fled violence and deserve a chance to make their case for asylum.

Meanwhile, House leaders have delayed a planned recess, in the apparent hope that they can still achieve the goal of appearing to do something. When members return, Election Day will be that much closer. It's not easy to imagine that this Congress could reach new lows. But it may.

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