Define ‘legislating’

At the Washington Ideas Forum yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) lashed out at President Obama in a deeply strange way. Asked what he hoped someone would ask the president at his press conference, held around the same time, Boehner said, “Mr. President, why have you given up on the country and decided to campaign full time?”

The Speaker added, “Nothing has disappointed me more than what has happened in the last five weeks. To watch the president of the United States give up on governing, give up on leading and just spend time campaigning. We’re legislating. He’s campaigning. It’s very disappointing,”

On the list of ridiculous things John Boehner has said, this has to rank pretty high.

In what universe can the actions of House Republicans this year be characterized as “legislating”? Is Boehner aware enough of his surroundings to realize just how pathetic the 112th Congress really is?

We can debate whether the president is “campaigning full time.” I’d argue that Obama is trying to create the political conditions that might prompt Congress to actually try to govern for a change. But it’s at least a debatable point.

But after watching congressional Republicans closely this year, several words come to mind — most aren’t appropriate for publication — and “legislating” certainly isn’t one of them. Jonathan Bernstein noted yesterday that it’s “hard to believe” that Boehner could make this comment “without bursting out laughing.”

The current House has done hardly any legislating at all. They could barely pass a bill to keep the government’s lights on back in the spring, and they almost send the nation into default in the summer. They missed the deadline to pass appropriations bills just last week, and there’s still no guarantee they’ll be able to do it after their new November extension.

And outside of that there’s … well, almost nothing. As Obama pointed out today, there is no Republican initiative that can meaningfully be called a jobs bill. They passed a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but did not keep their promise to develop a “replace” bill, or even begin the work on doing so. Same thing on financial regulation: they don’t like Dodd/Frank, but there is no Republican alternative.

Right. Boehner and his cohorts aren’t only failing to legislate; they’re failing to even try. In a divided government, with both parties enjoying some power, a legitimate policymaking process would require some give and take, concessions and compromises, and the Speaker has decided it’s not worth the trouble — or more accurately, the weak Speaker has been told by his radicalized caucus that compromise is impossible.

Boehner’s tenure has been a nine-month-long fiasco. Thanks to his style of “legislating,” this Congress has passed no meaningful pieces of legislation, and won’t improve on this record before 2013. Public support for the institution has reached depths unseen since the dawn of modern polling.

If Boehner wants to explain his failures, fine. If he wants to apologize for them, great. But to blame the White House for trying to rally the public behind credible solutions, and pretend that he and his caucus are making a good-faith effort to govern, is insane.