A House On the Brink

By: Juven Jacob

The current session of congress, officially known as the 113th Congress, is on track to be one of the most unproductive congresses in American history. Only 15 bills so far have been enacted law. But that is the right wing agenda.  

Ever since the 2010 mid-term elections, it has been the mission of the GOP House to put the frail economy in peril and blame the devastation on the Democrats. A defeat of the President they despise and of the Democrats in the Senate to begin to reverse the progress that the President and Democrats had put in place. But the mission failed. The President won re-election by a landslide and the Democrats actually gained seats in the Senate. The house remained in GOP hands largely in part due to redistricting. The GOP secured the seats of its members by safely drawing out Republican districts. It isn't widely known that house Democrats garnered about 1.5 million more votes than house Republicans but thanks to redistricting, the GOP retained control.

There should be little surprise to the dysfunction in Congress, especially the house. The gerrymandering of the districts have so safely guarded the members of the house that they do not have to be accountable to neither the country as a whole or their party leaders. Instead of worrying about a formidable general election opponent, they must worry about a more conservative or liberal primary opponent of their own party. This is especially true for the GOP. In other words, they must out conservative the conservative. Instead of finding the middle ground, it has caused the parties to run in polar opposition directions. This is where compromise becomes a dirty word. If you work with the other party, you will be called out, threatened with a primary opponent and targeted for defeat.

The GOP tag line should be: No legislation is good legislation – the nation be damned.
— Juven Jacob

Which brings us to where we are today. Initially you heard the calls from moderate Republicans to adapt to change, to scale back the rhetoric, to work with the President and his party, to modernize and to be more inclusive. But just as time killed any hope of passing gun reform legislation after the initial shock of Sandy Hook, the same effect is taking over the GOP. The shock of the 2012 election is fading and time is killing any hopes of bipartisanship.

Speaker Boehner has no control over the house he rules. The far right threatens at every turn to remove him as speaker if he dares to defy their wishes. They balk at any cooperation with the White House and gasp at any spending measures from the Government; or at least they pretend to care at the moment. The speaker has broken the so called "Hassert Rule" a number of times just to get legislation passed. The "Hassert Rule" is a GOP created non-binding rule that requires the Speaker to only bring legislation to the floor if it has the majority support of the majority party. In other words, only if a majority of the GOP support the bill will it be brought up for a vote. Legislation like the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill and the Violence Against Women Act only passed the house because Speaker Boehner was willing to break the hassert rule and allow Democrats to join with enough Republicans to pass the legislation. If the speaker had held to the rule both bills would have died.

Speaker John Boehner

But the speaker has used up his political capital. When pressed by reporters on whether he will break the hassert rule to pass immigration reform he steadfastly asserts that a majority of the GOP would have to support the legislation for it to be brought for a vote. That means that the Senate approved immigration reform bill will die a painful slow death in the house. If the speaker were to allow a vote on the bill it would undoubtedly pass with just a handful of Republicans joining Democrats in voting for the bill. But what is good for the country would be bad for the speaker and for the GOP. If he allowed a vote without a majority of the GOP, it would guarantee his demise. 

Just three weeks ago, in an embarrassing show of leadership, the usually popular farm bill went down in flames after the conservative base of the GOP refused to pass it with the supplemental nutrition assistance food stamp program. And just yesterday the GOP decided for the first time in more than 40 years to strip the assistance program from the farm bill and only pass the farm subsidies to farmers. They told millions of starving Americans, including Children, you are not important enough.

The most glaring and obvious admission from the GOP was the fact that they truly don't care about deficit reduction as long as the spending is done on special interest rather than starving Americans.