This Congress is generally perceived as failing miserably when it comes to governing, and a few weeks ago, we learned this perception is quantifiably true: the 113th Congress is on track to pass fewer bills than any since the clerk's office started keeping track in the mid-1940s.
When a reporter asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) late last week about the institution's "historically unproductive" nature, the Republican balked. "That's just total nonsense," he snapped, before the question was even finished.
Over the weekend, however, Boehner reversed course, deciding that his unproductive tenure isn't something to be denied; it's something to be celebrated.
House Speaker John Boehner says Congress "ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal."The Ohio Republican makes the comments on an interview aired Sunday on CBS "Face the Nation." He was responding to a question about how little Congress is doing these days.Boehner says Congress "should not be judged by how many new laws we create."
Let's appreciate exactly what Boehner is trying to do here. When he and his Republican colleagues sought power, they told the electorate that they would work to find solutions to national problems. After having been unsuccessful, the Speaker of the House has decided to rebrand failure -- he wants credit for his record of futility and expects praise for the fact that he and his caucus have made no legislative progress since he took power three years ago.
Instead of finding solutions to ongoing challenges, Boehner believes Congress should be focusing on undoing solutions to previous challenges. By the Speaker's reasoning, we should probably change the language we use when it comes to Capitol Hill -- Boehner and his colleagues aren't lawmakers, they're lawenders.
The House Speaker is on his way to establishing an accomplishment-free legacy, and at this point, he'd like you to think that's great.
Indeed, the closer one looks at Boehner's argument, the more bizarre it appears.
On the surface, his rhetoric is the epitome of the kind of post-policy nihilism that dominates Republican thought in 2013 -- Boehner doesn't want to build up, he'd rather tear down. Given an opportunity to look forward and make national progress, the Speaker sees value in looking backward and undoing what's already been done.
And just below the surface, the argument reinforces what has long been suspected: House Republicans not only don't have a positive policy agenda, they don't even see the point in pretending to want one.
But then there's the most problematic angle of all. Congress "ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal"? I'm afraid I have bad news for Speaker: Congress isn't repealing laws, either. Indeed, in order for lawmakers to repeal laws, Congress has to -- wait for it -- pass legislation addressing those laws.
In other words, by Boehner's own standards for evaluating Congress on the merits, he's failing.
Don't expect a sudden burst of productivity, either -- after taking four weeks off for the August recess, Boehner announced late last week that the Republican-led House only intends to work nine days in the month of September.
Keep in mind, in election year, we might expect congressional leaders to schedule fewer work days in September because members want to be on the campaign trail, but odd-numbered years are generally supposed to be focused on governing.
It seems getting nothing done is exhausting.