Lawmakers return to work on Capitol Hill this week, but the record of the 113th Congress so far offers little hope that they can make progress — on anything.
Last week, legislative inaction allowed interest rates to double on federally subsidized college student loans, even though members on both sides of the aisle agreed that this was a bad idea.
Just a few days earlier, a combination of House Republicans and Democrats managed to unite just long enough to kill a farm-aid bill, the sort of measure once considered a sure thing even in times of bitter partisan division.
Modest gun control measures, favored by vast majorities in public opinion polls? Forget it.
As for the immigration bill, it passed the Senate after a month of debate, but many Republicans in the House are dead-set against any provision that offers a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million or so undocumented immigrants. Democrats made clear on Tuesday that this would be a deal-breaker, for obvious reasons: Without the pathway to citizenship, there is no immigration reform.
Speaker John Boehner has the power to forge a pro-immigration coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans to push the bill over the finish line, but he has made it clear that he’s unwilling to stick his neck out.
Exercising the kind of leadership required to salvage the reform measure would provoke a revolt from the tea party caucus, and Mr. Boehner has not shown any inclination to challenge this element of his party.
Thus, another measure designed to resolve a national crisis seems doomed to fail unless wiser heads prevail.
Even by the poor standards of the last few years, the Congress that returns to Capitol Hill to begin the second half of its first term is doing a remarkably poor job, according to published news reports. By this time in 2011, Congress had passed 23 laws, even then considered a historically low number. But the current Congress is trying its best to do worse, and it’s succeeding: Only 15 laws have been passed so far this year, but even that figure is misleading.
One bill raised the government’s borrowing limit, prodding the Senate to pass a budget bill for the first time in years. But that was months ago, and members of the GOP have blocked efforts to allow House and Senate negotiators to come up with a compromise for the next fiscal year.
The dysfunction in the House extends to the Senate, which failed to pass a gun control provision over background checks, even though it has the support of 90 percent of the public. Republican senators have also blocked President Obama’s appointments to fill vacant cabinet and agency positions, including the secretary of Labor, the head of the EPA and director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The common thread is a rejection of compromise and GOP antagonism to President Obama at every turn. One of the few measures to pass the House is a repeal of the president’s healthcare plan, even though such measures are guaranteed to die in the Senate.
The victims of this paralysis are students in need of college loans, farmers who rely on stable government policies, the millions who will be left in the lurch by the failure of immigration reform — and anyone else who believes government can play a role in improving the common good.
The last six months have been awful, but it’s not too late for the 113th Congress to do better. Approving immigration reform would be a good place to start.