The Party of No Just Can’t Govern

The Party of No Just Can’t Govern
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Five months after taking complete control of power in Washington, Republicans are learning how much more fun it was to throw grenades than it is to catch them

Whatever else you say about it, the modern Republican Party was remarkably effective during the last six years of the Obama administration. It had a simple message: No. It fought against anything and everything Obama proposed, and its scorched earth policy worked. It won the House back in 2010 and added the Senate in 2014. Up until election night last November, given the near certainty of the party maintaining its majority in the House of Representatives, Congressional leaders planned to keep it up under President Clinton.

Instead, suddenly, Republicans were expected to govern. And that isn’t going so well.

Governing does, after all, depend on having qualified people in the most important executive branch positions. The Trump administration, as of this writing, has put forth nominations for only 83 of the 558 key positions requiring Senate confirmation. By comparison, at this point in their administrations, Obama had nominated 219, G.W. Bush 177, and Clinton 201.

This has happened despite the fact that this is the first administration able to take advantage of a bill I sponsored in the Senate, allowing candidates for President who won their party’s nominations to establish transition teams immediately, instead of waiting until after the election results. The new law increased the pre-election transition period from approximately 77 days to something closer to 177 days. One can only wonder if the Trump team was seriously making plans for a Trump presidency.

Even with very few executive branch jobs filled, you might have expected the majority party in both the Senate and the House to send some significant legislation to the White House by now. That’s not going so well either.

The most visible example of the party’s failure is its inability to fulfill its number one campaign promise: the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. If it weren’t such a deadly serious issue for so many millions of Americans, you might be tempted to laugh at the bumbling we have witnessed. After voting more than 60 times to repeal the law when they could count on an Obama veto, it became immediately obvious soon after the new Congress convened that Republicans never had any idea what they would replace Obamacare with.

The bill that finally passed the House, famously celebrated as a great victory in the Rose Garden, is viewed favorably by less than 30 percent of Americans. The President who gave the Rose Garden party now says the bill is “mean.”

Even Republican senators declared the House bill dead on arrival in the Senate, and a group of 13 of them have been working in secret to produce an all-new bill, to be unveiled and quickly voted on “before July 4,” according to Mitch McConnell. Will it be less “mean?” Maybe, but don’t make any bets on it ever becoming the law.

Even if the Senate bill gets 50 Republican votes, which is unlikely given the differences between far right members and the few so-called moderates, trying to reconcile any Senate bill with the House bill will be a colossal train wreck.

Steering the House Republican train from the far, far right are 40 members of the Freedom Caucus. They made sure that the House bill would be unpassable in the Senate, and they are not about to give up their veto power. Given the 22 vote majority the Republicans have in the Senate, and the decision from day one by the President and Congressional leaders to give Democrats the back of their hand, the Freedom caucus can and will make sure that reconciliation will fail.

The same 40 members are using the same techniques to demand major concessions from leadership for their votes on the budget. The result has been historic. Never before has an administration and Congress of one party gone this long without passing a budget. In fact, unbelievable as it may sound, neither the House nor Senate Budget committees even have a budget bill to consider. Freedom Caucus member Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) said recently at a Heritage Foundation event. “Right now a budget cannot pass in the House of Representatives – it can’t.” Lest you think that is the extent of the dysfunction, he went on to say, “If you don’t get a budget agreement, you can’t get reconciliation. Without reconciliation you can’t do tax reform.”

Tax reform? Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin promised that President Trump would be signing a Tax Reform bill before this August recess. Don’t buy tickets for the signing event. As Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) said recently, “I don’t know anything about it, and I am on the Budget committee.”

Infrastructure? The Mexican Wall? No one I know thinks there is any realistic chance of either major campaign promise being kept.

So what will be this year’s major achievement by the Republican government? Maybe one of the President’s latest tweets tells us where we are headed: “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”

If you can’t govern, in other words, why bother to keep the government operating? You have to admit there is a certain grim logic to that.


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