Politics and Public Opinion, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate

5 myths about the 112th Congress

U.S. Congress

Photo Credit: cliff1066tm (Flickr)

Two of Washington’s best Congress-watchers—AEI’s Norm Ornstein and Brookings’s Thomas Mann—recently released a list of five myths about the 112th Congress. Here is my short summary of each myth:

Myth #1: The 112th Congress was as bad as the 80th “do-nothing” Congress during the Truman era.

The 80th Congress passed 906 laws, including the consequential Marshall Plan. It also reorganized our national security apparatus and created the Defense Department and the National Security Council. The 112th, in contrast, passed fewer than 250 laws and had no major legislation comparable to the Marshall Plan.

Myth #2: President Obama wasn’t adept at working with Congress.

Recent talk bemoaning a lack of presidential leadership in Congressional negotiations is nonsense. Leadership is contextual: If you asked LBJ to negotiate in today’s congressional environment, he would be bewildered and frustrated. President Obama faced extreme opposition that previous presidents had not encountered.

Myth #3: Boehner was the big loser.

The Speaker’s problem was a lack of followership, not leadership. Many members of his caucus were more worried about a primary challenge to their right than pressure from House leadership, making it difficult if not impossible to control their voting behavior. Boehner’s success in passing the Senate’s fiscal cliff deal was an example of good leadership despite strong headwinds.

Myth #4: Debt-limit debacles will become business as usual in Congress.

While Republicans effectively used the debt ceiling to extract spending cuts in 2011, they will be unable to do so in the future for three reasons. First, President Obama has said that he will no longer negotiate on the debt ceiling. Second, the business and financial communities are speaking up about their opposition to debt ceiling brinksmanship. Third, the public is more aware of the potentially catastrophic consequences of not raising the ceiling.

Myth #5: The 113th Congress will be as unproductive as the 112th.

The 2012 election showed that mindless opposition to the president’s agenda would not result in electoral success, so the Republican incentive for opposing the president at all times has been ameliorated. Moreover, the election provided an unexpected opening for a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Other events have created opportunities to craft bipartisan laws on energy production and gun control. And if Washington can reach just one more round of spending cuts and revenue increases totaling $1 trillion, our debt-to-GDP ratio will stabilize over the medium term, allowing lawmakers to focus on questions of economic growth, health care delivery, and finance reform.

Be sure to read Ornstein and Mann’s full article for more detail, and check out their book on the subject of Congress, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.

3 thoughts on “5 myths about the 112th Congress

  1. Why in God’s name do we measure Congressional productivity by the number of laws passed. That seems to be the complete opposite as to how we should measure their productivity. We have too many legislators sitting around trying to figure out how a law can cure every single ill in society. Enough already.

  2. #1. So this Congress did less than the ‘Do-Nothing’ Congress. That should be celebrated and highlighted!

    #2. The reason Republicans ‘acted like radical insurgents’ is simply because there is an ever-growing divergence of political vision. There is less and less common ground between the parties, and less and less incentive to ‘go along to get along’. If President John Doe of Party X repeatedly and relentlessly proposes policies that the Opposition Party Y earnestly believes is fundamentally harmful to the country and/or the economy, by what possible logic does Opposition Party agree to give him what he wants?

    #3. Boehner is frustrating to conservative Republicans, because he is good at playing the same old games. The Fiscal Cliff deal is a perfect example. Hardnose ‘negotiation’, followed by what appears to be a cave. Raise taxes now, in exchange for maybe someday possibly thinking about looking at reducing spending. Push push push for deals and compromises, while never once attempting to explain to the public (or the base of his own party) how such things align with Republican principles (let alone conservative principles).

    #4. If Democrats are able and even eager to simply ignore the legally-mandated budgeting process, and if Republicans are simply going to not fight for a cap on borrowing, then what is the practical function of a debt ceiling? Why should Republicans attempt to restrain government growth at all? Half the country seems to believe money is infinite and spending is endless, so… surely they must be right…? Right?

    #5. Again, define ‘productive’. More laws being passed? More economic sleight of hand? More ‘pass this law to find out what’s in it’? More Republicans conceding defeat to Democrat agenda? I will count it as a productive year if there is a single solitary instance of a ‘grand deal’ on whatever topic, where the Democrats actually, distinctly, compromise on one of their core principles.

  3. So two tax and spend liberal pseudo scholars want to claim the 112th Congress was unproductive? Ok, well the German army considered the seige of Leningrad unproductive. The 112th Congress did not “Fail” to do anything. They chose to represent their constituents clearly expressed preferences to reject enactment of more liberal policies.

    These two have been masquerading as impartial academics since the 80s; but anyone familiar with their work recognized long ago they are nothing more than thinly disguised Democrats advocating continual growth government through legislative accomadation.

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