Republicans Are Doing Exactly What They’ve Promised — Nothing.

The GOP is blamed for blocking action in Congress, but conservatives say that’s just what they were sent here to do.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) walks away after speaking to the media after attending the weekly House Republican conference at the U.S. Capitol January 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Speaker Boehner spoke on various issues including tonight's State of the Union speech by U.S. President Barack Obama.
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
July 8, 2014, 7:03 p.m.

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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