Josh Marshall had a terrific piece the other day, suggesting the political environment in Washington has effectively reached the point of an awkward “truce.” Given the severity of the partisan strife and the toxicity of political climate, that may seem mistaken, but the thesis makes quite a bit of sense.
For his part, President Obama has grudgingly given up on a broken Congress and is instead “pursuing a reasonably ambitious agenda using a mix of executive orders and other executive prerogatives.” Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, have abandoned hopes of legislating – if such hopes ever existed – and have embraced Scandal Mania as their raison d’etre, without any real regard for whether the underlying “controversies” have merit or are in any way legitimate.
In other words, it’s arguably time to stop thinking about the Beltway conflict as one in which two powerful forces are butting heads, and start thinking about it as a dynamic in which the institutions are on separate tracks, moving in different directions, effectively taking a you-do-your-thing-and-I’ll-do-mine attitude.
To that end, for a guy who may never see an important signing ceremony again, it’s striking how busy the president has been. Obama and his team have recently moved on addressing carbon pollution, raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, creating a vast new ocean reserve, making more resources available to entrepreneurs, combating discrimination, and today, helping same-sex families.
The federal government on Friday will extend a wide range of marriage benefits to same-sex couples, making good on a promise by President Obama after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last year.After decades of blocking gay married couples from receiving the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts, most federal agencies will now treat married couples alike, regardless of gender…. The action is important, officials said, because of differences in how states treat same-sex marriage. Without the regulatory changes, gay couples could be blocked from receiving federal benefits in states that do not recognize their marriages.
To be sure, the president would almost certainly prefer to be working with Congress on actual legislation, not executive actions that don’t need congressional approval, but it’s equally clear Obama and his team don’t intend to sit around wasting time and doing nothing. They appear to have found a variety of ways to make a real difference despite the breakdown on Capitol Hill.
And speaking of Capitol Hill, did you catch House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) press conference yesterday?
If there were any doubts about GOP lawmakers giving up on passing bills and focusing all of their energy on manufactured “scandals,” Boehner couldn’t have made things clearer. He took a kitchen-sink approach to political analysis, blaming the president for sectarian violence in the Middle East before complaining about the discredited IRS story, the VA, an immigration problem Republicans refuse to address, and the release of an American prisoner of war. (In an entertaining twist, note that there were no references to the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” during any of Boehner’s tirades. The fact that the issue has vanished says a great deal about its successes.)
Asked about actual policy work, on issues like the Highway Trust Fund and the Voting Right Act reforms, the Speaker told reporters, quite literally, “I have no idea.”
Which did not come as a surprise. The Speaker’s focus isn’t on substantive measures in need of legislative attention; Boehner has faux scandals on his mind. It’s an election year, after all, and there are fundraising letters to be written and Fox News segments to be produced.
And so Obama keeps making executive moves to address his policy priorities, while congressional Republicans keep advancing investigations into “scandals” that exist only in their imaginations – including another IRS hearing today.
As Josh Marshall concluded, “[B]oth sides of the partisan divide are operating in their own political universe, on their own political turfs. And the most striking thing is that both seem content to keep it that way.”