‘The Bart Simpsons of Congress’

‘THE BART SIMPSONS OF CONGRESS’…. The House was all set last week to approve the America COMPETES Act, a jobs bill with a specific focus on boosting investing in science, research, and training programs. It was scuttled by a deliberately absurd Republican motion related to pornography, which Dems were afraid to vote against because they knew it’d be used in attack ads.

The little stunt — eerily reminiscent of a farcical scene from “The Simpsons” 15 years ago — delayed consideration of the bipartisan bill, which is due to come back to the House floor today. (Under a suspension of the rules, the GOP won’t be able to use a motion to recommit, but the bill will need a two-thirds majority to pass.)

The American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein explains in his latest column that last week’s antics, orchestrated by the House Republican leadership, were a sad display. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) were “visibly exultant” when the America COMPETES Act was needlessly delayed, which only reinforces our worst fears about their abilities as lawmakers.

John Boehner used to be a serious legislator. Eric Cantor is smart and a justifiably rising star in the GOP firmament. But they are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious. Instead of encouraging a constructive relationship with the serious and fair-minded legislators on the Democratic side, they are adding to the traction of their take-no-prisoners counterparts. What a shame.

Ornstein has a higher opinion of Boehner’s and Cantor’s abilities than I do — I simply cannot recall a time when Boehner was a “serious legislator” — but the larger point is an important one. The leaders of the House Republican caucus, including a man who may be Speaker of the House in January, are at their most comfortable acting like children. They’ve grown to love gimmicks and stunts, and approach the substance of policymaking with all the seriousness of a kid who enjoys the popping sound of bubble-wrap a little too much.

And if Republicans excel in the midterms, Boehner and Cantor will perceive it as a reward for their antics, which will only encourage them to be more ridiculous.