Barack Obama recently backed measures that will allow four million illegal immigrants to apply for work permits in the United States. Although the opposition has criticised this decision, the President claims that he had no choice but to act due to the hostility of the Republican controlled Congress. The resulting fallout is a clear sign of a stalemate we are likely to see over the next two years.

This week, Rep. Tim Huelskamp called for the Speaker of The House of Representatives, John Boehner, to not invite Obama to deliver the State of the Union address. He even suggested that the budgets for White House operations should be decreased. “I’d rather defund Air Force One,” Huelskamp said. “Congress took a 19% cut on its budgets so we should do the same for the White House.” Regarding the State of the Union, he added, “In the spirit of George Washington, he could send it to us in writing. It’d save some time.”

The State of the Union address is comparable to the Queen’s speech in that, despite not being earth-shatteringly exciting, it is a hugely symbolic occasion. It is true that for much of the country’s history it was delivered in writing by the President but the event has in recent years served an extremely important purpose; it’s the only time of the year when the three branches of government (Congress, the Supreme Court and the Cabinet) are all gathered together. It is a day where political differences are put aside as an implicit validation of the entire political structure and the President’s place atop it. What The Republicans are therefore proposing is comparable to holding the Queen’s speech without the Queen. Symbolically speaking this would be more than a vote of no confidence, an effective impeachment.

…the government of the most powerful nation in the world [is now] reduced to little more than childish bickering.

Naturally, opposition parties bristle at being forced to participate in such a public validation of the President’s power. Democrats have bristled in the past with the likes of George W. Bush in the same circumstances but to not invite the President at all would be unprecedented. Rep. Huelskamp’s suggestion that they “defund Air Force One” is particularly ridiculous. After all, who does President Obama think he is flying around in the President’s plane?

Other conservatives have mentioned censorship, impeachment and even suing the administration over its immigration actions. Although not inviting Obama to The State of the Union would seem mind-bogglingly petty, the very fact that it’s being contemplated is a clear illustration of a shift in the balance of power. It highlights the significance of the Republican victory in this year’s mid-terms and the sort of political bickering we can expect over the final few years of Obama’s second term.

It is a constitutional flaw that US politics is vulnerable to such a breakdown of the political system. This is the government of the most powerful nation in the world, supposedly the shining light of western democratic principles, reduced to little more than childish bickering. Pathetic doesn’t even cover it. Even if Mitch McConnell and John Boehner see sense and do indeed invite Obama to the State of the Union address, they will be put under increasing pressure from inside and outside Congress to find ways to chip away at The White House. They’ll inevitably fail but the current situation is a damning indictment of this era of US politics.

Image rights; Michael Stone