House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, right, accompanied by House Republican leaders, finishes a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Aug. 1...
J. Scott Applewhite

House returns to a narrow to-do list

Updated
The House of Representatives returns to work today for something the public has not yet seen in 2014: the chamber will work for three whole weeks without an official break. According to the House calendar, this will be one of only two instances this entire year in which members of the lower chamber will work for three weeks in a row without some time off.
 
The question then becomes what House lawmakers intend to do with all this time at work.
 
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spoke to Virginia Republicans late last week and talked about what he and his colleagues are up to. “I’m part of the IRS investigation,” he said. “We’ve got the Benghazi investigation, the Veterans Affairs investigation, and we’re going to do an investigation about this troop transfer with the Taliban. So we’ve got a lot on our plate.”
 
Notice, Ryan didn’t actually refer to any real legislating on the House Republicans’ plate. That wasn’t an oversight.
While Republican goals on the legislative front are modest, they’ve set their sights high on oversight, with a series of hearings aimed at holding the White House to account on everything from the Veterans Affairs scandal to the IRS, and Benghazi and the recent Guantánamo Bay prisoner swap.
 
The trade of five Taliban combatants from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been imprisoned in Afghanistan for the past five years, has Republicans, and even a few Democrats, demanding answers from the administration.
House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office said yesterday that in the coming months, the public will “see again and again that the American people’s priorities are our priorities.”
 
I don’t think that’s quite right.
 
In general, Americans’ top priorities relate to jobs, the economy, health care, education, and to a lesser extent, deficit reduction. While there’s ample evidence that the public isn’t satisfied with Washington ineptitude, it’s a real stretch to think there’s a sizable constituency out there hoping to see Congress give up on substantive policy work to pursue assorted controversies, most of which have already been discredited.
 
In fairness, I should note that House Republicans do intend to pry themselves away from Scandal Mania long enough to vote on some tax cuts, which they don’t intend to pay for, and which they intend to finance through a larger federal budget deficit. (Remember when GOP lawmakers pretended to worry about a “debt crisis”? They don’t remember that at all.)
 
What’s especially striking, though, is coming to terms with the message House Republicans intend to take into the midterms. With one government shutdown under the belt and an attempted debt-ceiling crisis having come and gone, GOP lawmakers will have killed immigration reform, ignored calls for a higher minimum wage, rejected unemployment aid, scuttled their own tax-reform plan, and created the least productive Congress – by a large margin – since the clerk’s office started keeping track several generations ago.
 
These are the same House Republicans who approved a right-wing budget plan that, among other things, sought to scrap Medicare out of existence, all while voting several dozen times to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act.
 
After four years in the majority, the House GOP’s list of major legislative accomplishments is still blank.
 
And yet, as the elections draw closer, the Republican majority in the lower chamber still intends to invest the bulk of its time on a discredited IRS story, asking Benghazi questions that have already been answered, complaining about the circumstances surrounding the release of an American POW, and exploring a VA scandal that’s existed for many years that the party just recently decided could pay political dividends.
 
It’s a good thing for incumbents that so many congressional district lines have been drawn to prevent competitive races.
 

House Republicans

House returns to a narrow to-do list

Updated