Is This The Worst Congress Ever?

The current GOP led Congress is off to a horrendous start and things may get a lot worse before they get better.   This awful performance wasn’t what the Republicans promised during campaign 2014.  Many Republicans ran on the platform that electing a GOP controlled Congress would end the gridlock.  Shortly after the Republicans won the election, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that: “I don’t want the American people to think if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome.  I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right of center, governing majority.” 

Unfortunately, the performance of the GOP-led Congress and the Nebraska Congressional Republicans could lead to a scary outcome as early as September if present trends continue.  Since the new Congress took office in January, the American people have been subjected to the extraordinary level of dysfunction and gridlock that have characterized Republican members of Congress since 2009.

The gridlock and dysfunction in the current session of Congress began as early as February when the Republican members of Congress tried to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security when the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota was threatened with a terrorist attack.  Despite that threat to our neighboring state, Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith all went on record in favor of a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.  These were deeply irresponsible and reckless votes.

Nebraska’s Congressional Republicans made a similarly reckless vote when all of them voted for the GOP budget which ends Medicare as we know it and turns it into a voucher program.  This GOP Medicare scheme that would force senior citizens to purchase private health insurance would also bring back the pre-existing condition clauses that were banned in the Affordable Care Act.  The GOP Medicare scheme would cost the average senior citizen thousands of dollars in additional out of pocket medical expenses and largely benefit the private health insurance industry.

Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith voted for yet another gift for the special interests when they voted to repeal the estate tax.  This tax cut would only benefit the top 0.2% of Americans and add $269 billion to the deficit.  There has yet to be any evidence that any farm has ever been sold off to pay the estate tax in recent history.

When Nebraska’s Congressional Republicans aren’t voting to comfort the already comfortable, they are voting to support the latest fad from the Tea Party.  Both Sasse and Fischer voted against re-authorizing the Export-Import Bank.  This once obscure agency suddenly became a Tea Party target due to pressure from the Koch brothers.  The Export-Import Bank provides necessary financing to agricultural exports and earned the Treasury Department $675 million in it’s last fiscal year.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) – who spoke to the Douglas County Democrats earlier this year – responded to this effort to shut down the Export-Import Bank by simply saying: “Idiotic.  Mind-boggyling idiotic.”  House SpeakerJohn Boehner thus far has refused to allow an up or down vote in the House on the Export-Import Bank.  (As of the time of this writing, the Export-Import Bank hasn’t been re-authorized.)

This abject failure of the GOP led Congress simply isn’t confined to the irresponsible Republican leadership in the Senate and the House.  This failure extends to all Republican members including Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith.  As Doug Muzzio, a political science professor from New York’s Baruch College said: “The Republican Congress has shown itself to be, almost without exception, incapable of doing the people’s business, at least when it it comes to important business.  There is a real failure, not just of the party leaders, but of the membership.”

Despite this disgraceful performance, the House began a vacation on July 31 and won’t return to Washington until September 8.  Representative Brad Ashford – the lone voice of reason in the Nebraska delegation – called on the House to cancel its undeserved vacation and to stay in Washington to work on a vast pile of unfinished business.

When the House goes back into session on September 8, they will only have twelve legislative days to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling.   Already there has been a lot of loose talk about shutting down the government over an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.  In a recent conversation, Congressman Ashford told me that he was very concerned about the prospect of another government shutdown.

Nebraska’s current set of Congressional Republicans all supported the deeply misguided government shutdown in 2013 which cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs.  In order to avoid another unnecessary self inflicted wound to the economy, Nebraska’s Congressional Republicans should publicly take a pledge to oppose any government shutdown or attempt to default on the national debt.  Any attempt to sabotage the economy in order to gain policy concessions should be simply declared off limits by all members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation.

Congressman Brad Ashford ran against the government shutdown of 2013 and has been working hard to create bi-partisan solutions.  He has been the lone responsible voice in the Nebraska Congressional delegation.  Among other things, Representative Ashford has stood up to radical Republican efforts to gut Medicare and to kick 16 million off their insurance policies by repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Moreover, Ashford has been the champion for America’s veterans who have done so much for our country.

As Nebraska Democrats we can remedy this problem by working hard for the re-election of Brad Ashford.  Nebraska CD-02 is one of the few true swing districts in the U.S.  I’m confident that Ashford will be re-elected because he is popular in the district and there should be a strong Democratic turnout in the Presidential election year.  A well placed Republican insider told me on background that it will be hard for the Republicans to take back Nebraska CD-02 next year.

We also can’t neglect Nebraska CD-01 and CD-03.  I realize these districts are pretty red but if the Republican Congress shuts down the government and/or defaults on the national debt, they could set off a wave election that would heavily benefit Democratic candidates across the nation.  In every wave election, there are always a handful of under dog candidates who get swept into office against the odds.

I like our chances in the Congressional elections in 2016.  Like I said, there will be a strong Democratic turnout due to the Presidential election.  In addition, the GOP is likely to select a wounded Presidential nominee who will be well outside the mainstream.   In order to win the GOP Presidential nomination, a candidate has to excessively pander to the Tea Party and the other extreme factions in the GOP.

The only way to end the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington is to elect a Democratic President and Congress in 2016.  Our party is committed to ending the gridlock and putting the middle class first.  Now let’s get to work!