I cannot remember a weaker, more dysfunctional GOP House majority. Forget about what it has done (e.g., pass a debt-producing tax bill that disproportionately benefits the rich and corporations); consider what it has not done.
On Thursday, Republicans gathered at the Greenbrier Resort for their annual policy retreat were discussing legislation that would fund the government through March 22 or 23, but the date hadn’t been finalized, lawmakers said.“The idea is to do a CR through late March,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.), referring to a continuing resolution, a short-term spending bill that extends the government’s funding at current levels. … Many lawmakers are frustrated by the frequent passing of short-term spending bills, which Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Republicans at the retreat Thursday morning harms the military. The last two-year budget deal ran out at the end of September. Congress has kept the government running with short-term spending bills since then.
Do they not work long enough hours? Are they incapable of controlling their own members? Perhaps they are paralyzed on a solution for the “dreamers” (put a bipartisan fix on the floor and it would pass, going away). I honestly do not know, but it’s no excuse to blame the Senate (which requires 60 votes). The House has not done its job. As the Peter G. Peterson Foundation explained, this “reflects the continued failure of lawmakers to reach agreement on appropriations for the full 2018 fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2017 and runs through September 30, 2018. Funding the government for a full year is preferable to using a CR because it allows government agencies to plan appropriately and match their resources with their responsibilities. That predictability in turn benefits the economy by providing certainty about government actions.”
The House has not passed an infrastructure bill or addressed the public’s concerns about health care (instead by repealing the individual mandate, it arguably will make coverage more expensive).
The House’s greatest failure, however, concerns oversight — or the lack or abuse thereof. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has entirely politicized the Russia investigation, throwing up one distraction after another in an apparent effort to give President Trump cover. In addition to the short-term damage to national security in seeking to release a memo about a FISA application to surveil Carter Page, Nunes has damaged intelligence oversight for the foreseeable future. In refusing to rein in Nunes, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has helped hobble the oversight process.
Carrie Cordero, who has served in a variety of high-level national security posts, told CNN, “The release of this memo under the process that is unfolding this week may cause serious damage to the relationship between the operational and policy professionals who work in the national security space in the executive branch, and the political leadership at the White House and in the House of Representatives.” If the intelligence community cannot trust Congress, it will withhold information; if Congress cannot discipline its members to follow established protocols, its ability to know what is going on and make informed decisions will be curtailed.
Appearing on MSNBC, former CIA director Leon Panetta was plainly alarmed. “We have check and balances. But you have to establish ways for those checks and balances to work,” he said. “When that starts to break down, when the president says I’m going to release it no matter what the FBI says, or what the Justice Department says, then it creates what I consider a constitutional crisis,” he said. This entire debacle could have been avoided had Ryan exercised appropriate control over a committee that is supposed to be less partisan than the average committee.
In refusing to take the Russia investigation seriously, Congress has also failed to protect our electoral system from further meddling by Russia and other powers. Like Trump, it seems more interested in discrediting the investigation than in ensuring Russia does not affect U.S. elections.
Ryan’s GOP House has also failed to exercise basic oversight of the White House to prevent executive branch corruption and violations of the emoluments clause. It has allowed the president to maintain his business holdings, perpetuate conflicts of interest, refuse to disclose his tax records and receive foreign emoluments. Despite a series of scandalous revelations about jet travel by Cabinet members, no hearings have been held on the topic.
With respect to foreign policy, Congress is not the main actor, but it has an important role to play. We currently operate in the war against Islamist terrorists with an outmoded and insufficient authorization for use of military force passed in the aftermath of 9/11. The House has not sought to exercise oversight over the president’s unilateral military actions. Instead a third party, Protect Democracy, has brought suit, for example, to uncover any documents setting forth the rationale for the strike on Syria on April 6, 2017. Congress should be the one seeking to require the White House to provide its legal justification for past and future strikes. The House has not taken measures to ensure that the president seek congressional authorization for a first strike on North Korea. (The Senate has had a hearing on the president’s authority to use nuclear weapons; the House has not.)
In short, whether on funding or oversight, the GOP House has been inert and passive. In the intelligence arena it has not conducted a credible investigation into Russian interference but instead is viewed as colluding with the president to discredit the intelligence community. Ryan acts as though he works for a subsidiary of Trump Inc. and not for a co-equal branch of government.
If the voters want normal, open operation of their government, transparency, ethical standards and restraint on Trump’s ability to launch unilaterally a devastating war, they won’t get it from the Republicans. Fortunately, they can make a decision on whether a competent and responsible Congress requires a Democratic majority.
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