It has become a common refrain in today’s political discourse: decrying the nation’s “Do-Nothing Congress.”
As recently as last week, President Obama sang the tune in response to a threatened House Republican lawsuit over his executive actions. “As long as they’re doing nothing, I’m not going to apologize for doing something,” he said.
But Obama and others who describe this Congress as inactive are wrong. Republican lawmakers are doing something. And it’s exactly what many of them promised voters they would do — push to roll back things like federal spending and regulations.
Even some outside critics grudgingly admit that a conservative argument aimed at keeping the perceived expansion of government in check is — in fairness — doing something, even if that something is accomplished by seemingly doing nothing.
“Obviously the House is stopping bad legislation and initiatives. But we’re also passing jobs bill after jobs bill after jobs bill. We can’t, unfortunately, force the Senate to act,” said Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and chairman of the Joint Economic Committee. He adds: “If there is a lack of action on key issues, it’s because this president doesn’t even recognize there is a legislature to work with.”
Speaker John Boehner echoed that theme on Tuesday in a letter published in Politico. In it, he took issue with a story that he complained placed equal blame on the House for stalled tax reform this year, and he insisted that there is “no equivalence whatsoever between the House and Senate when it comes to our record on jobs and the economy.” Boehner also wrote that “it is difficult to see how we move forward on immigration when the American people — and their elected representatives — simply cannot trust the president to enforce the law as written.”
Steve Pruitt, a former Democratic staff director for the House Budget Committee, likens what’s happening in Congress to watching a swan swim across a lake: Above the water not much appears to be happening, but under the water line, “all hell is going on.”
“The apparent lack of activity really belies the reality. A lot is happening; it’s just a matter of which direction things are moving, toward you or away,” said Pruitt, now a managing partner at Watts Partners, a corporate and government-affairs firm. In other words — as simple as it sounds — the “Do-Nothing” or “obstructionist” view depends on whether you agree with the holdups and delays or not.
So, for instance, trying to kill the little-known Export-Import Bank is an affirmative step to end a program that conservatives don’t like. Others may disagree with the move, but it’s certainly not doing “nothing.”
Or demanding a “rethinking” of how another long-term government program like the Highway Trust Fund operates before simply approving more funding for it might be construed as doing nothing to some. So, too, could be demands for reforms to entities like the Commodity Futures Trading Commission before reauthorization.
On Tuesday in a session with reporters, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer complained about a number of such important “time-sensitive” legislative items that have had not been addressed, despite looming expirations of program authorizations or funding levels running low.
Hoyer included in his list several unfinished spending bills due by Oct. 1, the approaching Sept. 30 expiration of the Ex-Im Bank’s current authorization, the Highway Trust Fund that the administration says will be depleted later this summer, and the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which will see its current authorization expire Dec. 31.
“I don’t know that they’re scaling back government. They’re making government less effective, less helpful to the American people, less respected by our own people and people around the world,” said Hoyer.
“Shutting down government, putting the creditworthiness of the United States at risk, or refusing to fix things that need to be fixed [that] even they say they are broken — [such as] immigration — I don’t think that’s doing what they said they were going to do,” said Hoyer.
Added Hoyer: “I agree with the president. This is my 17th Congress. It’s the least productive Congress in which I have served.”
In fact, there is no dispute that this congressional session is a low-ebb — at least in terms of historical comparisons of the number of bills passed (though such counts do not account for the substance of the bills). Congress has passed just 121 public laws since this session began in January 2013 — including 56 this year — and is on course for being the least productive ever.
Congress also faces record-low public confidence levels. Only 7 percent of Americans surveyed for a Gallup Poll last month said they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence overall in Congress, down from 10 percent last year.
But most House Republicans seem unfazed by criticism that they are on the wrong path.
Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia, who was president of the tea-party-dominated freshman class of Republicans last session, said he suggests to the president, “You want to fix Social Security, let’s roll. You want to fix Medicare, let’s go. These issues are no joke, and you asked for the job of fixing them. Show us a proposal based on facts, not political division like the Buffett Rule.”
“We are not what we are being accused of,” said Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas on Tuesday, responding to the “Do-Nothing Congress” tag. He argued that it’s not that House Republicans don’t have ideas on immigration reform and border security, “it’s the president simply disagrees with us.”
“What we do in the House is to listen, author things that make sense, and explain answers to problems,” said Sessions. “We are a dynamic organization that can inflict change at a rate that the American people want and can understand it.”
But Thomas Mann, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution, said, “Don’t get caught up in the semantics.” He said that “rethinking” the Highway Trust Fund for projects “is a little generous” in terms of what is really going on, because virtually everyone acknowledges the need for this and other infrastructure projects but only House Republicans are unwilling to raise the gas tax or find some other income stream to finance it.
Likewise, with regard to the CFTC reforms, Mann says, “Trying to keep the derivatives section of Dodd-Frank from being implemented is called nullification. It seeks to undermine duly enacted law by denying funds.
“House Republicans have created a monster Congress that has done serious harm, either by doing something or nothing,” said Mann.
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Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”