In the face of becoming labeled as the most unproductive Congress, ever, House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday sent a discouraging message: expect more of the same.
“Our No. 1 focus will continue to be on the economy,” said Boehner, laying out the House’s 2014 agenda during a press briefing on Thursday. “Secondly, I would say our focus also has to be on protecting the American people from Obamacare.”
And there you have it–the top two priorities for 2014 are identical to the top two priorities for 2013, which has so far been one of the least productive years in Congressional history. In a matter of days, the 113th Congress will adjourn for winter break, falling seven laws short of the number passed at this point by the reigning least productive Congress in history–the 112th.
Boehner signaled he would not change course next year in passing bills that directly contradict the Democrats’ agenda, and stayed on point in deflecting blame onto President Obama and the Senate for inaction.
“The president’s more focused on increasing reliance on government programs than pro-growth policies that would create American jobs and better American wages,” said the speaker. “Republicans continue to focus on strengthening the economy for middle class families. That’s why we’ve passed nearly 150 bills in this Congress–many of them would help our economy–that are still sitting in the United States Senate.”
Democratic leaders have criticized the House for only passing partisan measures, while holding up major bills–such as immigration reform, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act–that have passed the Senate with support from both sides of the aisle. Boehner sent little hope on Thursday for getting to those items at all next year, let alone before the session ends on Dec. 13.
While he said he was “still committed” to addressing the country’s immigration system, Boehner made clear that the 1,300-page bill passed by the Senate last summer was “a nonstarter.” On the Farm Bill, Boehner said he hadn’t seen “any real progress” on negotiations, and added that he was prepared to pass a one-month extension of current policy.
The speaker sounded a slightly more optimistic note on budget negotiations, saying he was “hopeful” that the House GOP budget leader, Rep. Paul Ryan, and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray, could reach an agreement before the conference committee’s deadline next week. But as of yet, “there’s clearly no agreement,” said Boehner.
Congress also has until the end of the year to extend emergency unemployment benefits before they expire. Speaker Boehner said he would “surely entertain” a plan for extending those benefits, if the president came up with one, but argued that the real focus should be on “creating a better environment for our economy,” not on more government programs.
Boehner was most animated on the issue of Obamacare, for which he recently signed up (after hours of trying, he noted.)
“My health insurance premiums are going to double, my co-pays and deductible triple under Obamacare,” he said. “I’m thrilled to death, as you can tell.”