Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the other day that he hopes the Republican-led Congress can prove to the electorate that his party can be a responsible “governing majority.” And on the surface, that’s a perfectly worthwhile goal.
But it’s been quite a few years since GOP policymakers actually tried to govern effectively, and there’s reason to believe the party no longer remembers how. This week, for example, Republican lawmakers will get right to work, pushing the Keystone oil pipeline and a measure to redefine a full-time worker under the Affordable Care Act. Jonathan Weisman had a good piece on the latter.
The House will take up legislation on Wednesday, the first major bill of the 114th Congress, that would change the definition of a full-time worker under the health law from one who works 30 hours a week to one who works 40 hours. A vote is scheduled for Thursday.
Weisman’s report did a nice job noting that even conservatives seem to realize this is a bad idea, with National Review’s Yuval Levin arguing over the weekend that the legislation “seems likely to be worse than doing nothing.”
Republicans, at some level, must understand this. Indeed, they pushed this exact same idea 11 months ago – in a bill they called the “Save American Workers Act” – and it was deemed ridiculous at the time.
An analysis of the bill, released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation, found that it would cause 1 million people to lose their employer-based insurance coverage. The report projected that more than 500,000 of them would end up getting coverage through Medicaid, the Children’s Health Care Program or the Obamacare exchanges. The rest, CBO and JCT said, would become uninsured.The legislation would also lower the amount the federal government collects in penalties from businesses who don’t abide by the employer mandate. As a result, the report found, the deficit would go up by $74 billion over 10 years.
Jonathan Cohn explained a while back, “The Congressional Budget Office just taught the Republican Party a lesson. Governing is hard…. [T]hat’s the reality Obamacare’s critics are never willing to confront. They’re great at attacking Obamacare. But they’re lousy at coming up with alternatives that look better by comparison. There’s a reason for that. The downsides of Obamacare are real, but, in many cases, they make possible the upsides. Take away the former and the latter go away, too.”
Faced with this knowledge, the new, massive House Republican majority has effectively declared, “Well, let’s just pass it anyway.”
And what about Keystone? I’ll dig into this in more detail when the vote draws closer, but for now, I’m reminded of President Obama’s comments at his year-end press conference a few weeks ago:
“At issue in Keystone is not American oil. It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada. That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf. Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market, and it would be sold all around the world.“So there’s no – I won’t say ‘no’ – there is very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices – what the average American consumer cares about – by having this pipeline come through. And sometimes the way this gets sold is, ‘Let’s get this oil and it’s going to come here.’ And the implication is, is that’s going to lower gas prices here in the United States. It’s not. There’s a global oil market. It’s very good for Canadian oil companies and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers. It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers.“Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs. Those are temporary jobs until the construction actually happens. There’s probably some additional jobs that can be created in the refining process down in the Gulf. Those aren’t completely insignificant – it’s just like any other project. But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country – something that Congress could authorize – we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that’s the argument, there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying Americans construction jobs.”
Again, the Republican Congress knows all of this. They know gas prices have already plummeted and that Keystone won’t push them any lower. They know that the project would create a few dozen permanent U.S. jobs. They know this is all about Canadian oil.
But this new “governing majority,” eager to prove how capable they are, have once again effectively declared, “Let’s pass it anyway” – whether it actually makes sense or not.
Republican lawmakers have had months – and by some measures, years – to come up with a policy agenda they’d implement once they controlled all of Congress. This, alas, is what they’ve come up with.