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Calmes: It’s a fact: House GOP is the worst

By Jackie Calmes
Published: April 1, 2024, 6:01am

More than halfway through the current two-year Congress, the “lawmakers” there bring to mind the old schoolyard quip about slacker students: They’re really good at recess.

This is the second of two weeks that the House and Senate are taking off, though it seems like only yesterday they recessed for two weeks to mark Presidents Day. Lucky for them, members of Congress get recesses regardless of how well they perform — just like kids in elementary school. And they haven’t been performing well at all, which explains the quotation marks above: The “lawmakers” aren’t doing much lawmaking.

This Congress is shaping up as the least productive since the Great Depression. Even the low number of laws enacted is a bit inflated given that the House and the Senate, unable for months to agree on funding the government, repeatedly passed stopgap spending bills to avert shutdowns.

The members finally finished the budget measures before dashing out the doors last week to start their spring break — nearly six months into the fiscal year, when they should already be at work on spending for fiscal 2025, which starts Oct. 1. Expect more brinkmanship then.

Don’t wish a pox on both houses and both parties, however. The blame lies with the House and the MAGA Republican Party that took charge there just over a year ago.

House Republicans can’t govern because so many of them are anti-government. They don’t want Washington to work when they can make partisan hay out of any disorder. They can’t pass needed laws because they won’t compromise, an essential act at any time but especially when the other party controls the Senate and White House.

Recall the House Republicans’ rejection last month of a bipartisan, conservative immigration bill of the sort they’d demanded. Some said the quiet part out loud. “I’m not willing to do too damn much right now to help a Democrat and to help Joe Biden’s approval rating,” Texas Rep. Troy Nehls said. And the House was only able to pass the government budget — its most important job — thanks to the votes of the Democrats. Most of the Republican majority voted against it.

Legislation simply isn’t the House Republicans’ priority. That’s been impeaching President Joe Biden, along with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, but they’re bollixing those efforts as well.

Forty years ago last month I started covering Congress, and in all that time I’ve never witnessed a more self-defeating, unconstructive and pathetic performance by a majority party. I nodded knowingly when the now-former Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado explained to CNN why he resigned last Friday: “It’s the worst year in 40, 50 years to be in Congress.”

When Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin departs this month, House Republicans will be left with a one-vote margin. That demands party unity to successfully legislate, as House Democrats showed with their slim majority in the productive Congress of 2021-22. Yet Republicans are as fractious as any party in memory, and their humiliations of the last 15 months have only made them like each other less.

Republicans’ disunity is so great that the hapless speaker, Mike Johnson, has taken to using what’s called the suspension calendar to pass needed bills. With ayes from Democrats together with some from Republicans, Johnson can reach that threshold, as he finally did on the budget.

The big test ahead is aid to Ukraine, which many of the far-right House Republicans oppose. In February, Johnson declared that the Senate’s bipartisan aid package for Ukraine (and Israel, Gaza and Taiwan) was DOA in the House. Yet he now vows that the House will take action to help the U.S. ally against its Russian invaders. With votes from Democrats. When members are back from recess.

Speaking of recesses: Voters could give the do-nothing Republican majority a permanent one if they put Democrats back in charge of the House this November. The bell can’t ring soon enough.

Jackie Calmes is an opinion columnist for the Los Angeles Times in Washington, D.C.