In my opinion, 2011 will go down in history as having showcased the most poorly led House of Representatives in the last 100 years. Speaker Boehner has shown either that he cannot lead or that his word cannot be trusted, or perhaps both. He has called for definitive votes and lost them. His rebellious members almost brought down our financial markets over raising the debt ceilings. He gave his word to the President and was torpedoed by his Majority Leader Eric Cantor who actively worked against him in prohibiting passage of agreed upon options.
Cantor has demonstrated that he does not accept the leadership of either the Speaker or the President. Some might say that the Tea Party members came to the Congress to change it and Boehner has refused to get on board. Others have indicated that he has given his new members too much space to vent and left them without direction or leadership. The Leader selected members for the Super Committee who were told to not permit any of the necessary tax increases to make the committee meet its stated goals, so dooming it to its ultimate failure.
Finally, in this last week after the Senate approved a two month extension of the employee payroll tax break and the additional allowances for unemployment insurance, the House could not come to any agreed upon course of action. Over a very long weekend Tea Party members, Eric Cantor and others joined Speaker Boehner in calling for re-negotiations and the matter was not brought to the floor of the House. (Some said it was due to the fact that the Republicans could not win an up or down straight-forward vote.) Speaker Boehner, surrounded by prominent fellow Republicans threw down the gauntlet indicating concessions they considered and demanded a conference committee to resolve differences between the two bills. After President Obama did not rise to the Republican challenges for one on one discussion, leadership decided to adjourn and leave town without resolution of these vital issues. This was a major misstep and erroneous calculation.
The American people, the political pundits, fellow GOP members, and editorial writers almost universally panned this last action of the House. (Without the passage of this Bill, in January 2012 long term unemployed workers would lose coverage and payroll employees would again have a higher payroll tax rate.) For several days, this matter dangled in the public sphere and Boehner dangled with it. Several GOP Presidential hopefuls also spoke about this issue, few favorably. Finally, the conservative Wall Street Journal weighed in with a strong unfavorable editorial, claiming that the House had handed the Democrats and President Obama an important edge for the 2012 election.
Additional comments in the WSJ discuss the issue. Here it is claimed that this was the wrong battle to fight; the House wanted to defeat President Obama and appear to be acting against the American people.
Most Democrats and the President continued to hold tight to the original legislation and kept the pressure on the House leadership. It appears, finally, that the Democrats have learned their lesson. Concessions agreed to earlier in the year were not honored, so why should they go there again? Senate Leader Harry Reid indicated he had no plans to call the Senate back for another conference. Nancy Pelosi stated she was not appointing any members to a House Conference committee, so an impasse was in place. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell finally spoke up and told Boehner to get the job done and pass the bill.
Ultimately, the Speaker called for a conference call voice vote among his House members which required an unanimous vote for approval. If the House was not to be called to vote in person, and the bill was approved for the original two month extension as passed by the Senate. When Speaker Boehner again held a press conference announcing the decision of approval, he was no longer surrounded by over-eager Tea Partiers. in fact he stood alone at the podium and made his very brief announcement. Victory has many fathers, it is said; however, defeat has few followers. A day later, President Obama held an understated signing ceremony and flew off to Hawaii to join his family for their holiday vacation.
The American workers may now continue to enjoy a modest tax break (averaging about $40.00 per 2 week pay period) for the new couple of months. Hundreds of American millionaires may continue to breathe easily. Their .03% tax fee was dropped from the compromise.
Supporters and detractors of the Keystone Pipeline might also expect that some decision will be made in February, as that unnecessary and unrelated provision was also added to the legislation by the Republicans in an attempt to force the President's hand in this arena. The State Department had indicated it needed a year to study the changed route for the international pipeline, which would have placed it after the 2012 election. So the promised ability to have an up and down vote on the bill without extraneous provisions was apparently impossible to achieve. Again our House showed itself highly partisan and barely functional. The Senate had passed a bi-partisan bill with a vote of 89-10.
Congress returns to Washington again in January 2012. Possibly during the break from DC, back in their home districts, our legislators may realize that their inability to work together and reach consensus is not held in high regard by their constituents and might return to do the peoples work. What do you think? Will the election year harden hearts even more in dysfunction or will reality intrude and make the elected members work together to achieve compromise? Will the Senate again be paralyzed by the fact that 51 is not a majority for 100 Senators, again requiring 60 votes to pass anything? Let me know what you think.