Boehner, Cantor, McConnell & the GOP Dumb-Dumb Minstrel Show
In a little more than a week, the 112th Congress of the United States, under the tutelage of John Boehner, the indubitably and most morosely ineffectual Speaker of the House of Representatives, will come to a miserable, dastardly end.
At its inception immediately following the Republican infamous shellacking of Democrats during the 2010 midterm general elections, Boehner and his Tea Party fellow travelers came to Washington on a platform purportedly anchored by a desperate longing to reverse some of the worst fallouts from the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; they literally road into town chanting jobs, jobs, jobs!
There was a peculiar certainty and urgency in their mission. For them and many other non-partisan commentators, that year’s election results were a loud and clear denunciation of President Obama’s economic program. Some even got so giddy with the mood of the times back then that I recall recoiling with horror at the most profane excesses of GOP Congressional braggadocio.
It was a high season for a lot of symbolism, sound bites and photo-ops. Riding the fervor of the prevailing Tea Party gusto, Republican leaders took turns pounding their chests and stroking the backs of their party’s base with pronouncements and promises that, to the most naïve, ought to seem like pointless bluster.
While Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor furtively sought to calm a boisterous mob of first-time Tea Party lawmakers intent on taking the knife to a plethora of popular federal programs and summarily repealing Obama’s health care reform law, McConnell channeled his energy towards nobler pursuits; what he termed his singular most important mission----making Obama a one-term president.
Nearly 24 months since the 112th Congress convened, it has, by any imaginable metric available (votes taken, bills made into laws, presidential nominees approved, etc.), earned the inglorious designation of being the least productive in modern US history.
In terms of the total number of bills enacted, while the 112th Congress currently has 218 on the books, as the following chart from the Library of Congress shows, it woefully underperformed every one of the ten immediately preceding congresses:
102nd (1991-1992) 590
103rd (1993-1994) 465
104th (1995-1996) 333
105th (1997-1998) 394
106th (1999-2000) 580
107th (2001-2002) 377
108th (2003-2004) 498
109th (2005-2006) 482
110th (2007-2008) 460
111th (2009-2010) 383
To put this in a more poignant or decipherable context, the Boehner Congress has even performed worse than its 1948 counterpart that President Harry Truman notoriously christened the “do-nothing Congress.” In terms of the total number of bills that actually became law, the 112th Congress extraordinarily posted shabbier numbers than what obtained at the height of the rancorous Clinton impeachment proceedings in the 1990s.
Looking beyond the numbers and digging a little deeper into the substance of these pieces of legislation, murkier as this may seem, some have opined that a substantial number of these laws are quite meaningless, mundane or inconsequential.
Among political observers, traditionalists tend to blame the 112th Congress’ lackluster performance on a constellation of three factors (partisanship, the onset of perpetual campaigning and the era of gotcha politics) that together render ordinary or previously routine rules of political engagement in Congress rather worrisome and terrifying. Too many lawmakers eagerly yearn to be as inconspicuous as possible. They avoid controversy or strive not to be caught in the throes of a serious debate about matters of national consequence out of fear that any views expressed or positions taken may be applied by political opponents toward their demise at the next election.
But it is also abundantly clear that the presence of the first African-American president in the White House appears to have ushered a new, unprecedented form of hyper-partisanship in Washington.
Republican lawmakers have been unified in their opposition against the Obama administration’s key policy initiatives. It’s been an era of the purist form of conservative orthodoxy. Gone are the years when the nation relied on an army of centrist legislators to pull together to get things done and in its place has been incessant gridlock; gridlock after gridlock.
The 112th Congress’ productivity problem rests squarely with the prevailing crisis of leadership among GOP lawmakers in Congress.
To all intents and purposes, Boehner, Cantor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell traded reasoned legislative leadership for aimless posturing and numbing ideological demagoguery.
Perhaps nothing symbolizes how truly out of control things have gotten in the House of Representatives than Speaker Boehner’s failure to secure his own House caucus’s support for the so-called “Plan B” proposal that he floated last week as the GOP’s last counter-offer in the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations with the White House.
Things haven’t fared any better in the Senate. In early December, McConnell disbelievingly went on the Senate floor to filibuster a bill that he himself had introduced just hours earlier.
McConnell’s bill was a supposed to have been spoof based on a “last-choice” proposal previously offered by the White House during the 2011 debt-ceiling standoff whereby the president could raise the debt ceiling and Congress could only override him with a veto-proof majority.
Apparently, McConnell was hoping to embarrass President Obama by showing that he couldn’t muster the votes for such a measure even in a Democrat-controlled Senate. When Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid called his bluff and tried to put the measure through a vote, McConnell had no choice but to do the unthinkable.
Considering that the political constitution and control of both chambers of the US Congress did not witness any notable changes as a consequence of the 2012 general elections, it is highly probable that barring any changes in the GOP Congressional Leadership and/or modus operandi, the gridlock in Washington will persist, Republicans will continue down the same uncelebrated path of “do nothingness” and the 113th Congress will inevitably vie with the 112th for last place honors on total output.