The new Congress was sworn in today, which was cause for various writers to note the abysmal performance of the last Congress. Here’s Ezra Klein, for example, on the many, many failures of the 112th:
What’s the record of the 112th Congress? Well, it almost shut down the government and almost breached the debt ceiling. It almost went over the fiscal cliff (which it had designed in the first place). It cut a trillion dollars of discretionary spending in the Budget Control Act and scheduled another trillion in spending cuts through an automatic sequester, which everyone agrees is terrible policy. It achieved nothing of note on housing, energy, stimulus, immigration, guns, tax reform, infrastructure, climate change or, really, anything. It’s hard to identify a single significant problem that existed prior to the 112th Congress that was in any way improved by its two years of rule.
The 112th, which was gaveled into being on Jan. 3, 2011, by newly elected House Speaker John Boehner, wasn’t just unproductive in comparison with the 111th. It was unproductive compared with any Congress since 1948, when scholars began keeping tabs on congressional productivity.
Klein is right that the 112th was utterly useless as a Congress, but it’s a little unfair to tar all of Congress with said failures. When we say “Congress” what we mean is the House of Representatives, and even then, what we mean are House Republicans, who have been a model of extremism and dysfunction for the last two years. And if the fiscal cliff deal is any indication, the most productive work is likely to take place in the Senate, where political circumstances permit both sides to craft the occasional agreement.
The House, by contrast, will remain just as impossible to work with as it was in the previous Congress. To wit: Congressional Republicans are already planning to use the debt ceiling as leverage for deep spending cuts. Either Democrats agree to dismantle to social safety net, or House Republicans plan to crash the global economy.
It’s a dangerous and irresponsible move to take, but that won’t stop them at all.