The Wile E. Coyote Congress

This isn’t real news, but Ezra Klein’s scorching documentation in his Bloomberg column of exactly how bad the just-ended 112th Congress has been deserves repetition and reflection:

What’s the record of the 112th Congress? Well, it almost shut down the government and almost breached the debt ceiling. It almost went over the fiscal cliff (which it had designed in the first place). It cut a trillion dollars of discretionary spending in the Budget Control Act and scheduled another trillion in spending cuts through an automatic sequester, which everyone agrees is terrible policy. It achieved nothing of note on housing, energy, stimulus, immigration, guns, tax reform, infrastructure, climate change or, really, anything. It’s hard to identify a single significant problem that existed prior to the 112th Congress that was in any way improved by its two years of rule.

The 112th, which was gaveled into being on Jan. 3, 2011, by newly elected House Speaker John Boehner, wasn’t just unproductive in comparison with the 111th. It was unproductive compared with any Congress since 1948, when scholars began keeping tabs on congressional productivity….

The 112th found legislating so difficult that lawmakers repeatedly created artificial deadlines for consequences and catastrophes intended to spur them to act. But like Wile E. Coyote with his endless supply of Acme products, when the 112th set a trap, the only sure bet was that it would explode in its collective face, forcing leaders to construct yet another hair- trigger legislative contraption.

And it’s not just progressive wonks who feel that way about the 112th, Ezra notes:

As a result of its good works, the 112th Congress was the least popular since pollsters began keeping score. According to the Gallup Organization, the 112th’s approval rating fell to 10 percent in February 2011 and again in August that year. Those are the lowest readings in Gallup’s 38 years of surveying. When another polling firm, Rasmussen, asked Americans in March 2011 how they’d feel about the U.S. turning into a communist country, 11 percent said they’d approve. So congratulations, 112th: You were, at multiple points, less popular than communism.

While you can argue there’s plenty of blame to go around for this sterling record of substantive and political fecklessness, when you look at the whole mess, it bears the distinctive stamp of House Speaker John Boehner, forever bobbing and weaving to preserve his power with rarely a glance at long-term consequences. Whatever grief the Orange Man gets today in his normally pro-forma re-election as Speaker, he has richly earned.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.