Is it too early to call the GOP-run 114th Congress a failure?
If I were a Republican voter, I wouldn’t be particularly pleased with what my representatives have managed to do so far — in fact, it’s been more like a month-long string of pratfalls than anything else. There was the abortion bill they introduced and then pulled over language concerning rape victims. They did pass the Keystone XL bill, which will be vetoed — and their timing wasn’t great, given that with gas at $2 a gallon, people aren’t feeling a desperate need for Canadian tar sands oil. Their alternate plans for immigration and health care are nowhere to be seen.
Now look at the news just from the last day or two. Republicans tried to pass a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security and repeal President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Senate Democrats filibustered it, and in its current form it’s dead, meaning we’re headed for another shutdown mini-crisis. Spoiler alert: Republicans will lose, caving in and funding the department. Then the House took its 56th vote to repeal Obamacare, and as Dana Milbank reports, even Republicans themselves can’t get excited about that. “For much of the debate Tuesday afternoon, no more than a dozen seats were occupied on the pro-repeal side of the House. More than once, the GOP had nobody available to speak.”
Oh, and one of their new star senators made news by stating that restaurant workers shouldn’t have to wash their hands after going to the bathroom.
It’s quite a record of accomplishment. What wonders will their second month in power bring forth to improve Americans’ lives?
In fairness, with a Democratic president there really isn’t much that a Republican Congress can achieve unless it’s willing to compromise, which this Congress isn’t. But after six years of waiting for the moment they’d take complete control, you’d think they’d have some kind of plan. If they do, it’s hard to discern how it’s supposed to work. Every conflict they have with the president only seems to make them look worse, and they seem to be lurching from day to day with no idea how to do anything but fall on their faces.
Ironically, the Republicans had a lot more power when they were in the minority than they do now. With a Democratic Congress, the administration set out an ambitious legislative agenda, which Republicans were able to obstruct and subvert as long as they stayed unified, which they did very well. But once they took control, the administration all but gave up on legislating (apart from unavoidable tasks like passing budgets to keep the government open), which leaves Republicans with no fights to wage apart from the meaningless ones they manage to concoct on their own. And they can’t even figure out how to win those. Winning Congress has put Republicans in a position where they have little choice other than to make things worse.
Nevertheless, there are still 23 months left in this Congress. There will be opportunities for Republicans to make practical gains, and maybe even improve their image along the way. They could come to an agreement with President Obama on infrastructure spending, which everyone used to agree is absolutely necessary. They could make tough but realistic demands on the budget, and pass something that Obama will be willing to sign but still manages to move government’s priorities in the direction they’d like — even if tea partiers call it a betrayal, because tea partiers will call any compromise a betrayal. If the Supreme Court rules in their favor in King v. Burwell and takes insurance subsidies from millions of people, they could be ready with a plan to help them immediately, instead of just celebrating the fact that they successfully made so many Americans’ lives worse.
All that could happen. But based on their first month with control of Congress, does anyone think it will? Or will each new controversy only show them to be unable to reconcile their internal disagreements or achieve anything tangible for their own supporters? Unlike some issues that pop up unexpectedly, those are debates and hurdles everyone can see coming. And I’ll bet Republicans still don’t have a plan for them.