If Harry Truman thought he was dealing with a “Do Nothing Congress” in 1948, he’d think that one was actually hyperactive compared to the one we have languishing on Capitol Hill today.
Not only is this the least productive in history, it may be the one to have taken the most vacation days as well. Right now, as Political Insider reported last week, it is on an undeserved five-week summer vacation while many of our underworked lawmakers are traveling the world on the taxpayer’s time. Not all, mind you; some are actually on productive foreign travel, but more than a few are just junketing.
There are only nine legislative days remaining before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, and not a single one of the 12 spending bills needed to run the government has been passed. In fact, only 22 bills of any kind, including renaming post offices, have been sent to the president for signature.
So what have they been doing? Well, just before adjourning and heading off to the airport the House voted for the 40th time to repeal Obamacare. They knew it was a futile gesture because the Senate was not about to take it up and the president is not about to agree to scrapping his landmark achievement. But you can bet they’ll keep passing those empty bills and avoiding the important ones when they return. After all they’re part of the crowd that after nearly 80 years hasn’t given up trying to dismantle Social Security.
In the latest attempt to kill Obamacare — they used to say they were for “repeal and replace” but they’ve dropped “replace” — a number of the more conservative Republicans are threatening to shut down the government if Obama doesn’t surrender to their demands.
The group is led in the Senate by three tea party/Libertarian first termers: Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida. All three also share 2016 presidential ambitions and no doubt feel this will help get them the nomination.
Cruz has branded colleagues who disagree with this tactics as the “surrender caucus” and insists that the Gingrich-led shutdowns of 1995 and 1996 were a great success for the GOP. More senior Republicans remember that differently and are urging compromise.
The Cruz-Paul-Rubio strategy is to take the entire federal government hostage, threatening to shut it down on Oct. 1 unless the president agrees to stop funding for the Affordable Care Act. If the president refuses, they contend the shutdown will be his fault, not theirs. Amy Davidson, writing in The New Yorker, called that strategy “fiscal terrorism.”
That worries a lot of their older GOP colleagues and particularly Republican governors who fear a shutdown could backfire on the party and hurt their states’ economies.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) warned colleagues that they would be “playing into the hands of the president politically” and “do great harm to the American people.”
If the Democrats are smart, they’ll quietly watch the show while silently thinking, “Go ahead. Make my day.” A GOP-led shutdown can help them hold their majority in the Senate next year and possibly even regain control of the House.
The House Republican caucus is split between the younger, tea party/libertarian wing which considers itself as the wave of the future and sees no reason to compromise with Democrats or even some of their older fellow Republicans, and the more traditional conservatives who understand the importance of compromise in a divided government.
Compounding the problem is Speaker John Boehner’s insistence that he won’t bring anything to the floor that doesn’t have the support of a majority of his members. House Republicans are also feuding with Senate Republicans, especially in the debate over the immigration bill.
That legislation passed the Senate with a large bipartisan majority but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who is aligned with the tea partiers, said most of his members don’t like it and so the House won’t even consider the bill. Instead it may try to deal with some aspects it likes — border security — and ignore others, notably a possible pathway to citizenship.
When it was pointed out that many children of illegal aliens have been valedictorians in their schools, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a bloviated foe of immigration reform, said those are a minority and most have “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling bales of marijuana across the Mexican border. Boehner called those comments “hateful (and) ignorant,” but King refused to back down, and his anti-immigrant views are likely to prevail.
The increasing isolationism and intolerance of many conservatives is why the Democrats have a lock on the Hispanic vote for the foreseeable future. And on the votes of Jews, African Americans, Asian Americans and other minorities. The GOP’s obstructionist message doesn’t appeal to the swing voters who often determine elections, as the 2012 election showed. And they are anathema to most Jewish voters, as are the GOP’s attitudes on abortion, same-sex marriage, health-care reform, taxes, Medicare and Social Security.
The College Republican National Committee said the party’s image among young voters is one of being “closed-minded, racist and rigid.”
A wild card is Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, who is believed to aspire to the Speakership. Will he work with the tea partiers to undermine Boehner, thereby boosting his own chances but adding to the turmoil within the GOP and increasing the legislative stalemate?
Whatever Cantor does, this will remain the most polarized and unproductive Congress in a century. Little wonder its approval rating is down to 10 percent and sinking. And little wonder Jewish groups that advocate on a range of economic and social justice issues are despondent.
Douglas Bloomfield is a nationally syndicated columnist.