A New Era of Congressional Civility? Don’t Bet on It

U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to members of the press during a news conference September 12, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Pelosi held the news conference to discuss House Democratic agendas.
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Oct. 17, 2013, 4 p.m.

As the gov­ern­ment and Con­gress re­opened for busi­ness Thursday, many law­makers were back in their dis­tricts for their first week­end break after the end of the 16-day gov­ern­ment shut­down and debt-ceil­ing crisis.

Sen. An­gus King, I-Maine, had said on the Sen­ate floor that he hoped his­tory would judge this week’s bi­par­tis­an deal to end the stan­doffs as “the be­gin­ning of a new era of co­oper­a­tion and ci­vil­ity and prob­lem-solv­ing.”

But early re­turns on how some lead­ers and rank-and-file mem­bers are ex­plain­ing these events in Wash­ing­ton to con­stitu­ents at home don’t in­dic­ate any sud­den shift in that dir­ec­tion.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who most prom­in­ently pushed the strategy to tie fund­ing the gov­ern­ment to con­ces­sions on the Af­ford­able Care Act, de­clared Thursday he wasn’t back­ing down.

“I would do any­thing, and I will con­tin­ue to do any­thing I can, to stop the train wreck that is Obama­care,” Cruz told ABC News when asked if he would rule out for­cing an­oth­er shut­down.

“Even someone as cold as [Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er] Harry Re­id will have a hard time for­cing people to buy a bad, un­af­ford­able product from a web­site that doesn’t work,” tweeted Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga. It was Graves who in­tro­duced in the House the De­fund Obama­care Act of 2013, eli­cit­ing a wave of sup­port from con­ser­vat­ive groups and a move­ment among rank-and-file Re­pub­lic­ans to push for ac­tion on Obama­care.

And Graves is not the only House con­ser­vat­ive un­ready to stop the flow of rhet­or­ic. Rep. Mick Mul­vaney, R-S.C., sent out a re­lease Thursday ex­plain­ing his vote against the deal to tem­por­ar­ily fund gov­ern­ment through Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceil­ing through Feb. 7.

Among his reas­ons: “In­sur­ance com­pan­ies in Harry Re­id’s home state [of Nevada] are get­ting spe­cial treat­ment; so are bars and res­taur­ants in [House Minor­ity Lead­er] Nancy Pelosi’s dis­trict. Mem­bers of Con­gress and their staffs will re­ceive be­ne­fits that no oth­er cit­izens will re­ceive. That’s simply not right. And that’s what we were fight­ing against.”

But par­tis­an jabs per­sisted from both sides of the polit­ic­al aisle.

At the White House, Obama him­self leveled more cri­ti­cism at Re­pub­lic­ans, even while he called for their co­oper­a­tion over the re­mainder of the year and for a less shrill tone on both sides.

Pelosi con­tin­ued to blame Re­pub­lic­ans for the gov­ern­ment shut­down, ask­ing re­port­ers, “Was their tem­per tan­trum worth $24 bil­lion?” That’s a ref­er­ence to cred­it-rat­ing agency Stand­ard & Poor’s ana­lys­is that the shut­down cost the na­tion’s eco­nomy at least $24 bil­lion.

She went on to say she hopes the budget ne­go­ti­ations that are get­ting un­der way might provide a way around an­oth­er fisc­al show­down, but she also sug­ges­ted that the bi­par­tis­an talks need to be held in pub­lic, not be­hind closed doors.

Pelosi’s sug­ges­tion came with a barb, as she claimed Re­pub­lic­ans like to ig­nore hard data on budget and policy is­sues. “What seems to be miss­ing now in their caucus is a re­spect for facts,” she said. “It’s like a data-free zone.”

But not all of the chat­ter Thursday was par­tis­an.

Pride of au­thor­ship beamed in a press re­lease pos­ted by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who un­flinch­ingly took cred­it for a pro­vi­sion con­tained in the Wed­nes­day’s agree­ment that crit­ics have sug­ges­ted is tan­tamount to an ear­mark.

A state­ment pos­ted on his web­site, en­titled “Simpson Se­cures Wild­fire Fund­ing,” states: “Idaho Con­gress­man Mike Simpson en­sured that crit­ic­al wild­fire sup­pres­sion fund­ing was in­cluded in must-pass le­gis­la­tion to avert a po­ten­tial debt de­fault and end the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment shut­down.” The re­lease goes on to state that the fund­ing in­cluded $600 mil­lion for the U.S. Forest Ser­vice and $36 mil­lion for the In­teri­or De­part­ment.

But the week­end rhet­or­ic has yet to really be­gin. And not all law­makers have ne­ces­sar­ily gone home to carry forth more par­tis­an mes­saging.

Rep. Scott Ri­gell, R-Va., a Re­pub­lic­an who voted for the meas­ure Wed­nes­day night, held a town-hall event Thursday night, and one of the points on his agenda, ac­cord­ing to aides, was his be­lief there needs to be more ci­vil­ity in polit­ics.

As one of the points on his agenda said, “So many people are frus­trated and dis­ap­poin­ted in their gov­ern­ment — and rightly so.”

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