Sometimes, a pox on just one house will do

Former Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio)
Former Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio)
Getty Images

The New York Times reported yesterday on the Sunday shows’ commentary, telling readers, “With eight days left to avert a possible government shutdown, Congressional leaders from both parties on Sunday passed around blame and resorted to name-calling…. Republicans and Democrats accused each other of being responsible for the impasse.”

Of course, this makes it sound as if the ongoing disputes on Capitol Hill are just the usual partisan bickering, instead of a debate in which one side is being needlessly destructive and extreme.

Late last week, Joe Gandelman raised a similar argument, saying the political center is “dead in America,” with both parties “veering toward the fringes and refusing to compromise.” For proof, Gandelman noted that the left disapproved of Larry Summers to lead the Federal Reserve, while the right is pushing for a government shutdown and the sabotage of the federal health care law.

But it was this Washington Post op-ed from Steve LaTourette, a former Republican congressman from Ohio, which pushed the “blame both sides” tack to the breaking point.

The focus on Boehner has been more intense because House Democrats have abdicated any meaningful role in passing legislation. Few bills are able to garner Democratic support, often not because of policy differences but because House Democratic leaders have decided they would rather wash their hands of responsibility for governing and, instead, focus on winning back the majority.

The role of the minority party is to be the “loyal opposition,” and Democrats have gotten it half right – they are opposed to everything House Republicans do, but there is not much loyal about it.

For the record, I don’t think LaTourette was kidding and the piece wasn’t presented to readers as some kind of attempt at satire.

LaTourette, the head of a moderate group, went on to criticize right-wing extremists on Capitol Hill, but he nevertheless believes the House Democratic minority bears some responsibility for House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) humiliating failures. He demands, “It is time for Democrats and the No On Everything caucus to step up and become meaningful participants in the legislative process.”

I realize that for much of the Beltway crowd, the urge to always blame both sides for everything is reflexive and almost uncontrollable, but especially now, this line of thinking is terribly silly.

LaTourette’s piece has a noticeable omission: examples. He insists those darned Democrats won’t cooperate with Boehner and the GOP leadership, but he fails to bolster his thesis with literally any evidence.

I have a strong hunch it’s because LaTourette couldn’t think of any real-world examples. In reality, the notion that House Democrats refuse to work constructively on policymaking is demonstrably ridiculous. The Democratic minority has offered to be a governing partner on all kinds of issues – the budget, immigration, energy, the Voting Rights Act – only to be ignored or rejected.

Consider just last week. The far-right demanded a government-shutdown bill, and Boehner could have easily avoided it by reaching out to Dems and striking a bipartisan deal. The Speaker, however, never even considered the possibility; immediately gave in to right-wing demands; and passed a scheme even Republicans expect to fail.

Let’s put it another way: can LaTourette (or anyone else) name a single piece of legislation in which GOP leaders were prepared to compromise, work in good faith with Democrats, and find a mainstream, bipartisan solution, but Democrats refused? Anything at all? Here’s a hint: there is no such legislation and LaTourette almost certainly knows this. It’s what makes his op-ed so misleading.

“Blame both sides” instincts notwithstanding, there’s an objective truth here for those willing to acknowledge it. Radicalized congressional Republicans, who refuse to compromise, are ignoring election results and relying on extortion politics to try to advance their far-right agenda. It’s actually quite obvious.

Democrats “are opposed to everything House Republicans do, but there is not much loyal about it”? Is LaTourette competing for some kind of award in irony? Does he really not understand the extent to which he’s describing his own party’s knee-jerk opposition to everything President Obama supports, even when he agrees with the GOP?

Steven Latourette, House Republicans and Republican Party

Sometimes, a pox on just one house will do