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'I ran on a government that did less'

Congress is failing to legislate on a historic scale. Some lawmakers hope you see their failure as a twisted kind of success.
A lone worker passes by the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, October 8, 2013.
A lone worker passes by the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, October 8, 2013.
Nearly a year into the current Congress, lawmakers have passed 55 bills that have been signed into law, putting the 113th Congress on track to be the least effective and least productive ever. The question isn't whether 2014 will be better than 2013 -- if the last three years are any indication, that's unlikely -- but rather how those responsible for congressional ineptitude will defend failure on a historic scale.
On last night's show, Rachel asked Ryan Grim, "When [lawmakers] go home in December 13th, it seems like they will be officially, by a long margin, the least productive Congress ever in American history. Are they going to try to spin that as to being a feature and not a bug?" Yep, they sure are.

"I ran on a government that did less," said Representative Reid Ribble, Republican of Wisconsin. "I felt the government was overreaching, and the citizens that sent me didn't want me to be overaggressive in writing new laws. The Affordable Care Act launch is actually demonstrating the ineptitude of the federal government in handling these big programs." The 113th Congress has passed all of 55 laws so far this year, seven fewer at this point than the 112th Congress -- the least productive Congress ever.

There is an enormous amount of work Congress must do. Indeed, there are important bills that have traditionally passed even when Capitol Hill is otherwise stuck in gridlock, but which still haven't been approved this year.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told the New York Times, "At some point, the Republican leadership has to ask itself, 'Why are they here?' These are things that really need to get done."
It's what makes quotes like the one from Reid Ribble so informative -- there are a group of federal lawmakers who believe they're succeeding by doing nothing, as if they're fulfilling a campaign promise. We can note that Congress has no meaningful legislative accomplishments since Republicans claimed the majority in January 2011, and for some GOP lawmakers, that's a compliment.
What's more, it's not just Ribble. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) himself said this year that the best way to evaluate Congress isn't by legislation it passes, but rather, Congress "ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal."
It was an odd metric to propose -- Boehner has failed spectacularly to write new laws and repeal old laws. By the Speaker's own standards, he and his party have done nothing of any value after three years in power. House Republicans are trying to rebrand failure as a positive, but they can't even do that well.
This should be especially striking to voters who backed Republican candidates assuming that they'd work on finding solutions to national challenges. Their campaign promises came with fine print: GOP lawmakers prefer to solve problems by doing nothing (except shut down the government and vote to take away health care benefits 46 times).
The Republican Party's critics have argued many times that the party has no real policy agenda and simply exists to tear down what others have built. What's interesting about 2013, however, is that the GOP no longer sees the point of keeping up pretenses -- they don't have a national platform and don't intend to pretend they want one. Theirs is a record of accomplishment-free governing, and they're hoping you see that as impressive.