A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW: CAN THE 112th CONGRESS MEASURE UP TO THE 111th?

This is one of the most productive Congresses in history.

–  Norm Ornstein

Congressional Scholar,

American Enterprise Institute

in the Financial Times, 3/19/10

 

Congress and the White House have completed 16 months of activity that rival any other since the New Deal in scope or ambition.

– David Leonhardt

New York Times

5/22/10

The 111th Congress, which served from January of 2009 to January of 2011, was one of the most productive Congresses in American history.  The Republicans, for obvious political reasons, have tried to downplay the accomplishments of this Congress, but the record is clear – the 111th Congress was able to “get things done”.

Among the many accomplishments of the 111th Congress are:

  • AMERICAN RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT ACT, enacted in the first month of President Obama´s term, to jumpstart our economy, create and save 3.5 million jobs, give 95% of American workers a tax cut, and begin to rebuild America´s road, rail, and water infrastructure, with unprecedented accountability.
  • STUDENT AID & FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT, making the largest investment in college aid in history – increasing Pell Grants, making college loans more affordable, and strengthening community colleges – while reducing the federal deficit by ending wasteful student loan subsidies to banks.
  • HIRE ACT, creating 300,000 jobs with tax incentives for businesses hiring unemployed Americans and to spur small business investment, and unleashing investments to rebuild infrastructure.
  • CASH FOR CLUNKERS, jump-starting the U.S. auto industry, with consumer incentives for trading in an old vehicle for one with higher fuel efficiency—spurring the sale of 700,000 vehicles.
  • WORKER, HOMEOWNERSHIP & BUSINESS ASSISTANCE ACT, boosting the economy with emergency aid for the unemployed, the 1st-time homebuyer tax credit, and tax relief for struggling businesses.
  • AMERICAN JOBS & CLOSING TAX LOOPHOLES, to prevent corporations from shipping jobs overseas at taxpayer expense, make Wall Street billionaires pay a fair tax on their income, and create jobs through R&D, small businesses, middle class tax relief, infrastructure, and summer jobs for youth.
  • HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM, landmark legislation putting American families and small business owners—not the insurance companies—in control of their own health care; lowering costs for middle class and small business; expanding health insurance for 32 million Americans; strengthening Medicare and lowering prescription drug costs; creating up to 4 million jobs; and reducing deficit by largest amount in almost two decades.
  • HEALTH CARE FOR 11 MILLION CHILDREN, providing cost-effective health coverage for 4 million more children and preserve coverage for 7 million children already enrolled.
  • FDA REGULATION OF TOBACCO, including advertising, marketing, and manufacturing of tobacco products, the #1 cause of preventable U.S. death.
  • OMNIBUS PUBLIC LAND MANAGEMENT, the most significant conservation bill in 15 years.
  • STATUTORY PAY-AS-YOU-GO, restoring 1990s law that turned record deficits into surpluses; Congress must offset new policies that reduce revenues or expand entitlements.
  • WALL STREET REFORM & CONSUMER PROTECTION, historic reforms to end taxpayer-funded bailouts and ´too big to fail´ financial institutions, and protect consumers from predatory lending and other financial abuses.
  • CREDIT CARDHOLDERS´ BILL OF RIGHTS, providing tough new protections for consumers—including banning unfair rate increases, abusive fees, and penalties—and strengthening enforcement.
  • DEFENSE PROCUREMENT REFORM, cracking down on Pentagon waste and cost overruns.
  • LILLY LEDBETTER FAIR PAY, restoring rights of women and others to challenge unfair pay.
  • VETERANS HEALTH CARE BUDGET REFORM & TRANSPARENCY ACT, ensuring reliable and timely veterans health care funding by authorizing Congress to approve VA medical care a year in advance.
  • FY 2010 DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION, authorizing 3.4% troop pay raise, strengthening military readiness and military families support, focusing our strategy in Afghanistan and redeployment from Iraq.
  • CAREGIVERS & VETERANS OMNIBUS HEALTH SERVICES, landmark legislation providing help to caregivers of disabled, ill or injured veterans, and improving VA health care services for women veterans.

In addition, during the “lame-duck” session (after the 2010 elections, but before the new Congress took their seats on January 5, 2011), the 111th Congress extended unemployment benefits, continued the Bush tax cuts for two years, ratified the START Treaty, repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, provided health care for 9/11 first responders (albeit in a watered-down version), and pushed through the most significant upgrade in food safety since the 1930s.  This was easily the most significant “lame-duck” session in decades.

There hasn’t been a Congress that passed so much legislation with so much impact on the lives of everyday Americans since the days of the “New Deal” during the Great Depression, and the truly remarkable thing is that this was accomplished with the constant and unrelenting obstructionism on the part of the Republicans, who forced an unprecedented 136 cloture votes in the Senate.  The 111th Congress set the bar exceedingly high, and now the new 112th Congress, which took office on January 5, 2011, will have to find a way to measure up.

The 112th Congress, however, is off to a rocky start.  There were Republicans voting on bills before they had been officially sworn in.  There were intra-party fights for leadership positions.  There was an alternative “Republican Response” to President Obama’s “State of the Union” Address (given by Representative Michele Bachmann).  There were mistakes made in pre-vote preparation which led to embarrassing losses on the House floor due to Republican defections.  Party discipline was virtually non-existent, making the Republicans look like, well, Democrats.

And then they got down to business.  As Joe Biden has said, “Don’t tell me what your priorities are; show me your budget and I’ll tell you what your priorities are.” Basically, talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words.  Forget the rhetoric – what the Republicans have actually done will be the best indication of their priorities.

So what have they done so far?  What are the Republican priorities?  It had been expected that they would be all about job creation, which had been the major focus of the campaign, and was the message that had lifted the Republicans to victory in the 2010 midterms.  So far, however, that has not been the case.  The Republicans, especially in the House, have focused on social and cultural issues instead.  Here are the first five bills introduced in the House in the 112th Congress:

 

HR-1:  The “Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act” – This bill continued the funding for the various departments at 2010 levels, meaning that the funds needed to implement the new provisions of the Health Care Reform law that took effect on January 1st and beyond – and provisions of many other laws – would not be funded.

HR-2:  The “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act” – This was just what it sounds like – an attempt to repeal the Health Care Reform passed last year.  Even if this were to pass the House, it will not pass the Senate, where the Democrats hold 53 of 100 seats, meaning this is entirely symbolic.  Back in December of 2010, John Boehner called House passage of a bill that had no chance in the Senate “chicken crap” – so what exactly is this?

HR-3:  The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” – This is likely to pass the House soon (it has passed both the Judiciary Committee and the Ways and Means Committee), but will die in the Senate, meaning that this effort is entirely symbolic (more “chicken crap”).  This bill originally created a firestorm because it re-defined the term “rape”, for purposes of abortion funding issues, to include onlyviolent “forcible rape”, thereby not including “statutory rape” (sex with a minor), rape committed when the woman was unconscious due to the use of the “date rape” drug, incest, and so on.  The more controversial parts of this have been changed, so that the provision now allows exceptions “if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest” or if continuing the pregnancy would “place the pregnant female in danger of death unless an abortion is performed.” (note that the woman must be in danger of actual death, not just life-long severe health problems).  So…what about the date rape drug – is sex with an unconscious woman “forcible”?  Regarding the incest provision, is it only incest if the woman is under 18?  In addition, this bill would increase costs to businesses that provide health insurance for their employees if that insurance covers abortion (which, for now, remains a constitutionally-protected, perfectly legal medical procedure).  As the Republicans are so fond of pointing out, any additional costs to businesses will cost jobs.

HR-4:  The “Comprehensive 1099 Taxpayer Protection and Repayment of Exchange Subsidy Overpayments Act of 2011” – Reduces the reporting requirements for businesses and corporations which acquire property.

HR-5:  The “Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011” – This is the Republicans’ version of Health Care Reform, but consists entirely of limitations on health care-related lawsuits.  That’s their whole plan.

The Republicans have also taken the time – and spent the taxpayers’ money – to consider legislation to de-fund Planned Parenthood (which, along with abortion services, provides cancer screenings, breast exams, HIV tests, counseling and other services, primarily to low-income women), to de-fund NPR (they called an emergency session for that one), to declare English to be the official language of the United States, and to reaffirm “In God We Trust” as the national motto.  They also held hearings to investigate American Muslims.

So their priorities are…repealing health care, restricting abortion, pushing tort reform, de-funding NPR and Planned Parenthood, declaring English as the official language, reaffirming “In God We Trust”, and going after certain American citizens based on their religion.  To me, this looks more like pandering to the Tea Party than fulfilling their mandate to create jobs.

Meanwhile, the battle for the budget has brought back the looming threat of a government shutdown (I seem to recall this not working out so well for the Republicans when they tried it back in 1995).  The Republicans want to drastically cut government spending, an idea that would cost a large number of jobs and bring the already-too-slow economic recovery to a grinding halt, and possibly even send us back into a recession (nevertheless, House Speaker John Boehner has said that if the Republican cuts cost jobs, “so be it.”), while the Democrats want far fewer cuts combined with increased revenues (such as a surtax on millionaires).  The Republicans have not budged; apparently not realizing that they now have to govern, not just make their symbolic points.  They control the House, but not the Senate and not the White House, so they are going to have to compromise.  They may be able to force their will in the House, but they simply don’t have the votes to force their will in the Senate, and even if they did, they don’t have the votes (in either House) to override a certain Presidential veto.  In other words, it’s all symbolic point-making – what Speaker Boehner would call “chicken crap”.

So far, the Republican priorities have been all about their social agenda, which is not what the people voted for.

Whatever happened to “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”?

 

© 2011 by David Bleidistel.  All rights reserved.