The US Capitol is seen at sunrise in Washington, D.C., Oct. 8, 2013.

When messaging trumps all

In recent years, congressional Republicans have reduced policy staff while increasing media and communications staff. It’s hard not to get the impression that GOP lawmakers place a greater emphasis on talking points than legislation.
This came to mind over the weekend watching Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who delivered his party’s weekly address. His speech argued that the IRS is “targeting Americans for their political beliefs,” which is plainly untrue, before complaining about “the rolling disaster that is Obamacare,” which seems pretty silly given reality.
But that’s not the interesting part. This was.
“We’ve focused on solutions to rein in big government, and help grow our economy,” Mr. Walden said in the weekly Republican address. “The House has passed more than 40 jobs bills, but the president and his party refuse to give them a hearing.”
This is clearly one of the House GOP’s favorite talking points, but it’s simply impossible to take the claim seriously. Walden may not have checked this list of “more than 40 jobs bills” lately, but I’ve actually read it. The list of “jobs bills” includes the Farm Bill. And a budget blueprint. And a measure to increase federal spending “transparency.” And a framework on cybersecurity.
No fair-minded person could credibly present these measures as actual “jobs bills” with a straight face.
So why boast about jobs bills that aren’t actually jobs bills? For the same reason these House Republicans approved legislation to address the border crisis that doesn’t actually address the boarder crisis: messaging trumps governing.
For the post-policy Republican Party, the goal of working on legislation isn’t to solve a problem or create a law; the goal is to be able to say, “We passed a bill.” Is the bill any good? It doesn’t matter. Did the bill become law? That doesn’t matter, either. Does the bill relate in some way to its stated goals? That matters even less.
GOP lawmakers have returned to their home districts and will no doubt tell constituents who ask about the humanitarian crisis at the border, “We took the lead, passed a bill, and met our responsibilities.” Those claims will be wrong, but remember, that no longer has any bearing on whether such rhetoric is used.
Similarly, constituents who ask about the economy will no doubt hear, “We passed more than 40 jobs bills, but the president and his party refuse to give them a hearing.” This, too, will be demonstrably false, but it won’t make a bit of difference.
The driving question GOP lawmakers seem to be asking themselves is, “What can we say when asked about _______?” Because the pretense of policy seriousness was abandoned quite a while ago, what’s left is an unyielding focus on rhetoric – the accuracy of which is irrelevant.
It’s why the House delayed its vacation by a day to pass ridiculous anti-immigration legislation; it’s why Greg Walden is falsely boasting about jobs bills that aren’t jobs bills; and it’s why this is the least productive Congress since clerks started keeping track nearly a century ago.