Harry Truman’s “Do Nothing Congress” looks hyperactive next to the current
crowd, which just left town on an undeserved five-week summer vacation after
having established itself as the least productive ever.
and unproductive lawmakers departed after the Republican-led House voted for the
40th time to repeal Obamacare, and they’ll keep trying.
part of the crowd that has been trying to repeal Social Security for the nearly
Their latest threat is to shut down the government next month
if the president refuses to defund the Affordable Care Act, his signature
A far-right group of Republicans, particularly
several presidential wannabes in the Senate, are holding the budget hostage,
saying they will block funding the federal government in the fiscal year
beginning October 1 unless the president surrenders to their
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.
A leading advocate of the
shutdown, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), called those critics the “surrender caucus”
and insisted that the 1995-1996 shutdowns forced by House Republicans were
actually a victory for the GOP.
If he believes that, he should ask
president Gingrich how well it worked for him.
Cruz, who quickly built a
reputation as something of a demagogic bomb thrower early in his first two
years, is said to have White House ambitions, as do his two allies in the
shutdown cause, Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of
Cruz & Co. have the hutzpa to say any shutdown would be
Obama’s fault, not theirs, because he refuses to capitulate to their demand that
he scrap Obamacare.
Amy Davidson, writing in The New Yorker, called that
strategy “fiscal terrorism.” If the Democrats are smart, they’ll quietly watch
the show while silently muttering, “Go ahead. Make my day.” A GOP-led shutdown
will help them hold their majority in the Senate next year and possibly even
return control of the House.
So far this year the 113th Congress has
passed only 22 bills for the president’s signature.
That does not include
any of the 12 annual appropriations bills needed to fund the government, and
there are only nine legislative days remaining before the new fiscal year begins
October 1. Without them, the government cannot operate.
Unless the Cruz
shutdown caucus prevails, Congress will pass a stopgap spending bill, but in
mid-November it will also be time to raise the government’s borrowing limit,
creating another potential hostage situation.
A major part of the problem
is 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 who remember the earlier shutdowns and don’t want
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.
legislation passed the Senate with a large bipartisan majority, but House
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), 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), an 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.” Boehner had to pull the farm bill from the floor because the deep
cuts the GOP made in the food stamp program weren’t severe enough for many
One reason Congress is having so much trouble enacting
legislation can be seen in how Boehner views his role. “We should not be judged
on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws that we
repeal.” Boehner is terrified the Tea Partiers in his caucus will try to depose
him if he even thinks about compromise.
Also looking over his own right
shoulder is Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is worried about the
Tea Party challenging him in his primary next year. McConnell is scared of Paul
because the libertarian freshman soundly defeated McConnell’s candidate in the
2010 GOP primary and he doesn’t want the same thing happening to
McConnell boasts of his obstructionism, leading more filibusters
than all his predecessors combined, to block Obama’s agenda. One of his
opponents said he has blocked so much legislation that even if he had a kidney
stone he wouldn’t let it pass.
A wild card is Cantor, the only Jewish
Republican in Congress, who is believed to aspire to the
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
©2013 Douglas M. Bloomfield firstname.lastname@example.org