After a tumultuous week of party infighting and leadership stumbles, congressional Republicans are focused on calming their divided ranks in the months ahead, mostly by touting proposals that have wide backing within the GOP and shelving any big-ticket legislation for the rest of the year. Comprehensive immigration reform, tax reform, tweaks to the federal health-care law -- bipartisan deals on each are probably dead in the water for the rest of this Congress. "We don't have 218 votes in the House for the big issues, so what else are we going to do?" said Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), an ally of House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio).
Election Day 2014 is 258 days away, which in political terms, is an extraordinarily long time. In theory, in 258 days, policymakers in Washington could identify several national priorities, consider worthwhile legislation, and pass meaningful bills into law.
But Robert Costa makes clear in a new report that for House Republicans, the year that is just now getting underway is already effectively over. Three weeks after President Obama presented a fairly ambitious agenda to Congress in a State of the Union address, the GOP House majority fully expects to get nothing done between now and November.
I feel like this assumption -- legislating simply isn't feasible because major bills can't get 218 votes in the lower chamber -- comes up quite a bit. Note that Boehner recently told Jay Leno, "I like to describe my job as trying to get 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to pass a bill. It's hard to do."
Except, it's not that hard to do.
What we're hearing isn't an explanation for inaction and passive indifference towards governing, but rather, an excuse. GOP leaders look at their to-do list and wistfully imagine how nice it would be to tackle priorities like immigration and tax reform, but they quickly do imaginary head-counts and throw up their arms in disgust. As Nunes put it, "We don't have 218 votes in the House for the big issues, so what else are we going to do?"
It doesn't have to be this way.
If House Republican leaders brought the popular, bipartisan immigration reform bill to the floor, it'd likely get 218 votes. If they brought the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the floor, it'd have a decent shot at 218, too. The same goes for a minimum-wage increase and a variety of other measures that the public would be glad to see.
The missing ingredient isn't votes. It's political will.
It's precisely why House Democrats are increasingly invested in discharge petitions -- if only a sliver of House Republicans agreed to help bring popular bills to the floor for an up-or-down vote, Dems believe Congress can do more than spin its wheels for the next 258 days.
It is, to be sure, a longshot, and discharge petitions very rarely work. But the alternative is yet another year of a do-nothing Congress.
Postscript: Costa's piece also quoted former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), who said, "If you're a Republican in Congress, you've learned that when we shut down the government, we lose. Now that we've had some success in avoiding another shutdown, our fortunes seem to be rising, so maybe we don't want big things to happen."
That's quite an inspiring message: "Vote GOP 2014: We only shut down the government once, not twice."