Matt Yglesias has written an article that probably won’t be embraced by the partisans on the far left or the far right. It’s titled: 2015 Was the Year Congress Started Working Again. He begins by listing their accomplishments and adds some commentary.
Among some of the things Congress accomplished: The main federal statute governing K-12 education got an overhaul. So did the federal disability insurance system. A long-running dispute about federal highway funding got resolved, as did a long-running dispute about Medicare payments. Last but by no means least, December saw a whole bunch of tax changes featuring good news for low-wage workers and a broad set of business interests. Congress even passed a law to ban microbeads in bath products to help protect the nation’s fisheries.
These aren’t all good bills, and almost none of them are what anyone would consider a great bill, but in a way that’s the point. Legislation passed in 2015 because congressional leaders went back to doing what congressional leaders are supposed to do in times of divided government: compromise to pass bills that don’t thrill anyone but do make both sides happier than they would be in the absence of a bill.
We all know that people like Sen. Ted Cruz aren’t happy about any of this. There are plenty of people on the left who aren’t thrilled either. But as Yglesias points out – it is a clear improvement over the government-by-crisis dynamic we saw previously.
Unlike Yglesias though, I don’t see the productivity resulting from the fact that President Obama is now a lame duck or that Congressional leaders don’t have much of a stake in any of the Republican presidential contenders.
What those explanations miss is that in 2015, Republicans took control of both Houses of Congress. Simply obstructing Democrats was no longer a viable strategy. Initially they eschewed government-by-crisis in favor of passing bills that would force President Obama to use his veto pen. That strategy started to fall apart almost immediately when the lunatic caucus wanted to shut down the Department of Homeland Security over the President’s immigration executive orders.
All of the compromises Yglesias listed happened when the Republican leadership abandoned the lunatic caucus and sought ways to work with the Democrats. And that, my friends, is precisely why John Boehner is no longer Speaker of the House. The lunatic caucus rebelled.
So what is the new Speaker to do? Here’s what Siobhan Hughes reports:
House Speaker Paul Ryan starting this month will push to turn the chamber into a platform for ambitious Republican policy ideas, in a bid to help shape his unsettled party’s priorities and inject substance into a presidential race heavy on personality politics.
Right out of the gate for the new year comes this:
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) January 1, 2016
It looks to me like Speaker Ryan is going to once again try to herd the cats of the lunatic caucus in an attempt to rack up symbolic votes that will be stopped by a presidential veto (if not in the Senate first). One has to wonder how that will fly with the angry/fearful right. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be stuck with a do-nothing Congress once again.