If you’re ever trying to decide which Congress is the worst in American history, start off with the 112th — in which a House majority was swept into power following a Tea Party “wave” election and promptly decided to hold the global economy captive by threatening to default on our debt if it didn’t get its way.
Unlike the Congress that passed George W. Bush’s tax cuts and authorized an endless War on Terror, at least this sabotage was purposeful.
In 2011, America was still crawling out of the economic mineshaft after a stern shove from Bush’s Great Recession. It was a textbook example — interest rates were low and the private sector was in tatters — of when government should be investing, not cutting.
Luckily, congressional Republicans decided to pull the gun away from their own heads. They still extracted their pound of flesh in cuts to essential programs. But rather than ask the rich to pay a cent more in taxes in exchange for cuts to Medicare and Social Security, they decided to wait for their chance to turn Medicare into a voucher program in order to pay for massive new tax breaks for the rich. This so-called “Path to Prosperity” plan was authored by Paul Ryan, now Speaker of possibly the worst House ever: the 114th.
Norm Ornstein, a non-partisan expert on the inner workings of Congress says it’s “no exaggeration” to call this one the worst ever. And sometimes even that description seems mild. Here’s why.
“The good news is that both the House and Senate have finally passed bills that would provide some funding to combat the Zika virus,” former Ebola Czar Ronald Klain wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post. “The bad news is this action comes more than three months after President Obama requested the aid. Moreover, the House bill provides only one-third of the respond needed; pays for this limited, ineffective response by diverting money allocated to fight other infectious diseases; and necessitates a conference committee to resolve differences with the Senate bill, meaning we still don not know when any money will finally get through Congress to fund the response.” We’ve seen this public health care crisis coming all year, but Republicans seem determined to let it get bad enough to use as a political tool, the way they did in 2014 with Ebola before quickly forgetting they ever wanted to shut down thousands of flights to fight the disease.
Republicans hold both houses of Congress and have the largest House majority since before FDR — yet they are still enthralled to the rightest of the right wing the self-proclaimed “Freedom Caucus,” conservatives from safe districts that are so white they have to wear sunblock in order to watch daytime TV. “Despite Paul Ryan’s many moves to accommodate Freedom Caucus members, bringing them into the leadership fold and consulting with them regularly, they have given him the middle finger on spending bills, holding firm against any change in the sequester numbers,” Ornstein notes. “And that, of course, puts Ryan right where Boehner was for several agonizing years. To get Freedom Caucus members to go along, Ryan will have to make concessions, which will lose other Republicans and allow Democrats to rip the bills apart with their own amendments.”
- Voting Rights Act
When Republicans last had Control of a functional Congress, they did something admirable — renewing the Voting Rights Act with overwhelming majorities in both houses. Meanwhile conservative interests were using extra-legislative maneuvers to get right wing judicial activists to gut a law that protected the right to vote — “the crown jewel of American liberties,” according to Ronald Reagan — to those who’d historically been denied it. In 2013, after a flurry of voting restrictions that hadn’t been seen since before the VRA, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority gutted the crucial pre-clearance aspect of the law. Now we face, as The Nation‘s Ari Berman keeps pointing out, the first presidential election in 50 years without the protections of this law. The 114th Congress joins the 113th in infamy after doing absolutely nothing to restore protections that would have at least delayed suppressive laws like Virginia’s, which could keep Josephine Okiakpe, a 69-year-old African-American woman, from voting.
- Abandoning its duty to confirm appointments
“The gaps on the executive side, which include key ambassadorships in critical countries and important posts in national security and homeland security, among others, are still overshadowed on the judicial side,” reports Ornstein. “There has been a huge spike in ‘judicial emergencies,’ which are formally designated by the courts when unconscionable delays in justice are caused by heavy workloads produced via court vacancies.”
- And the biggest dereliction of duty of all — the Supreme Court
Republicans have rewritten history and precedent to deny President Obama’s centrist Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland even the dignity of consideration. “The Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a successor from the time of nomination; on average, a nominee has been confirmed, rejected or withdrawn within 25 days,” The New York Times reports. “When Justice Antonin Scalia died, 342 days remained in President Obama’s term.” In 2011, House Republicans in their own ineptitude missed their chance to get the president to agree on a compromise agreement that would have infuriated his base. In 2016, if there’s any justice, they’ll end up rueing their chance to appoint a nominee Orrin Hatch once praised “as good as Republicans can expect from this administration.”
Photo: Speaker of the House John Boehner addresses the members of the 114th Congress after being re-elected as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the start of the 114th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg