Liberal political pundit David Faris wrote an opinion piece in The Week on Tuesday, titled, “Why the GOP Congress will be the most unproductive in 164 years,” a piece that bashes the Trump administration’s misuse of power the party should be exerting, considering that this is the first time since 2006 they’ve held a majority in government.
Stating that this crop of “GOP legislators are on track to be the least productive group since at least the Civil War,” Faris points out that, compared to Presidents Obama and Bush, Trump has signed more laws at this point in his presidency, but he says, “As The Washington Post‘s Philip Bump pointed out, a majority of the bills signed by Trump thus far have been one page long, meaning many are just symbolic or ceremonial.”
Faris brings up a statute which allows Congress to nullify recently enacted federal regulations, called the Congressional Review Act, and explains, “The CRA had been used just once before Trump took office, and yet 14 of the 43 bills signed into law by the president have been CRAs. Most of them roll back Obama-era protections against various kinds of transparent evil-doing, like preventing coal mining within 100 feet of streams. They’re not meaningless, but the Voting Rights Act they are not.”
He complements Bush’s tax cuts in June 2001 and Obama’s massive stimulus in February 2009 and states, “This Congress has not yet forwarded any legislation to the president that will significantly alter the trajectory of our politics or economics. Feel free to review the whole list yourself here and argue differently, unless you think the ‘U.S. Wants To Compete For a World Expo Act‘ (H.R. 534) is going to be the subject of debate by future historians.”
Faris points to “data maintained by political scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, which tracks the ideological makeup of individual members of Congress over time,” and reaches an interesting conclusion: “The most important finding they’ve uncovered is that over the past 30 years, congressional Republicans have become substantially more ideologically extreme, while congressional Democrats have moved marginally to the left but are not much different as a group than they were in 1980, a process known as ‘asymmetric polarization.’ For most of the post-war period, there were Democrats who were more conservative than the most liberal Republican, and vice versa. The last time this happened in the Senate was in the 108th Congress when soon-to-be-ex-Democrat Zell Miller sat to the right of several liberal Republicans, including Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and future party-switching Republicans Lincoln Chafee and Arlen Specter.”
He credits this “asymmetric polarization” as the reason for the gridlock and dysfunction today, making an interesting comparison: “It’s not like disagreeing about whether to get a Border Collie or a Boston Terrier; it’s like if you want a dog, and only a dog and nothing but a dog, and your partner despises animals of all kinds.”
Faris is correct in his assumption that Republican voters expected that full control of Congress and the presidency would make eliminating Obama-era laws easier and facilitate other good things, such as the ability to appoint a conservative-leaning Supreme Court member, which Trump has accomplished, and Faris does not acknowledge in his piece.
“But the divide within the Republican Party is proving to be as problematic as polarization between the parties,” he states, and he’s not wrong about that, either.
He examines today’s crushing blow to the healthcare bill, which will likely be defeated due to this very issue of factions within the Republican party not able to agree on anything.
“If you want to understand how much harder it is going to be for Republicans to get anything done than it was for the Democrats in 2009-2011, your best bet is to look at this intra-Republican distance,” Faris urges, illustrating, “When Democrats were toiling away on what was to become the Affordable Care Act, the total distance between the most left-wing elected Democratic senator (Bernie Sanders) and the most right-wing (Nebraska’s Ben Nelson) was barely half the size of the canyon between Susan Collins and Mike Lee. Think about that for a second.
“And it’s not like Collins is alone. She’s part of a cluster of three GOP senators, along with Lisa Murkowski and Shelly Moore Capito, who are much more liberal than the rest of the caucus. (By the way, it is not a coincidence that the GOP’s three most reasonable senators are women). Moreover, Mike Lee is part of a bloc of five far-right radicals — along with Jeff Flake, Rand Paul, Ben Sasse, and Ted Cruz — who are all substantially more conservative than anyone in the Senate during Barack Obama’s first two years in office. In a sane political system, there is a zero percent chance that Mike Lee and Susan Collins would be members of the same political party,” he writes.
Faris also notes, “To make matters worse, Republicans control only 52 seats in the Senate and as of yet seem unwilling to nuke the legislative filibuster (something they could do at any time by changing the rules of the Senate). Republicans no longer have conservative Democrats to lean on to get to 60 votes when their own most liberal members are beyond reach, because GOP behavior during the Obama years taught Democrats the electoral value of party unity. That means that even some very conservative pieces of legislation that have already passed the House, including the Financial CHOICE Act (H.R. 10), which guts Dodd-Frank, stand very little chance of becoming law.”
These are the reasons he lays out for why Congress is going to be “historically unproductive.”
He adds, “How can I be so sure of this? One measure of what Congress is likely to do the rest of the year is to look at bills that have already passed the House but are awaiting action in the Senate. There are 238 of them. Amazingly, GovTrack gives only 13 a better than 50 percent chance of actually arriving on President Trump’s desk in their current form. If that holds up, Trump will have signed just 56 laws by the beginning of the 2018 congressional session. If this tortoise-like pace continues, he will preside over the least productive Congress since Millard Fillmore signed just 74 bills sent to him by the brink-of-war 32nd Congress between 1851 and 1853.”
And when he says that “the Republican Party’s problems are far bigger than Trump — and will probably get worse before they get better,” he may well be correct.
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Healthcare: GOP’s repeal-only plan dead on arrival