The 112th Congress: A “Do Nothing Congress”?

Republicans are promising two years of gridlock and obstructionism if they take control of Congress, but is that really what the people who are likely to vote for them next week really want?

There’s more rhetoric today from Republicans promising an agenda of gridlock should they regain control of Congress.

First, we’ve got Congressman Mike Pence, who said on a radio show today that there would be no compromises with the Obama Administration:

Republicans aren’t interested in compromising with President Obama on major issues if they retake the House or Senate, a senior GOP lawmaker said.

“Look, the time to go along and get along is over,” said Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), the chairman of the House Republican Conference. “House Republicans know that. We’ve taken firm and principled stands against their big government plans throughout this Congress, and we’ve got, if the American people will send them, we’ve got a cavalry of men and women headed to Washington, D.C. that are going to stand with us.”

Pence said his party wouldn’t compromise on issues like spending or healthcare reform, two of the weightiest items on Congress’s agenda next year, when the Republicans could control one or both chambers.

“Look, there will be no compromise on stopping runaway spending, deficits and debt. There will be no compromise on repealing Obamacare. There will be no compromise on stopping Democrats from growing government and raising taxes,” Pence told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Thursday evening. “And if I haven’t been clear enough yet, let me say again: No compromise

Then today, a top House Republican gave college students in Utah a preview of what the next two years would look like if his party retakes Congress:

Voters should expect “good old-fashioned gridlock” in Washington if Republicans win control of one or both chambers of Congress, one GOP lawmaker said.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), a vice chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, told students at Utah State University on Friday that a GOP-held House might not be able to accomplish too much as long as President Obama’s in the White House.

“The most you can expect is two years of good old-fashioned gridlock,” he said at an event on the campus, according to a report by the university’s paper, the Utah Statesman.

Even Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell seems to be all-in with the gridlock-and-obstruct strategy:

About the time predictions started to surface in Washington that Democrats might lose control of one or both houses of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell began to research what happened to presidents who presided over a loss of Congress in their first midterm election.

It’s occurred three times in the past 100 years, and in each case the minority party that took control watched the supposedly vanquished president win reelection just two years later. First, Harry Truman in 1948 (after losing 55 House and 13 Senate seats in 1946); second, Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 (after losing 18 House and two Senate seats in 1954, creating Democratic majorities that would last in the Senate until 1980 and in the House until 1994); and finally, Bill Clinton in 1996 (after losing 54 House and eight Senate seats in 1994).

McConnell spent some of the summer and all of the fall ruminating on what congressional Republicans must learn if they wish to avoid the fate of those temporarily victorious majorities. Two principal lessons emerged, he said: Manage expectations, and pursue an agenda that any future GOP nominee can embrace in 2012. The only problem is that both goals require consensus, and it’s hardly clear that he’ll have it in his chamber. With the infusion of tea party blood, it’s anybody’s guess whether the Republican Conference can be the careful, unified party that McConnell hopes for.

“Our single biggest political goal is to give our nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful,” McConnell told National Journal in his first extensive interview about his aspirations for the Senate Republicans of the 112th Congress. “We need to work smarter than we did [in 1995], and not become the foil off which [President Obama] pivots.”

Not exactly a commitment to bipartisanship there.

To be honest, this does appeal to my libertarian inclinations. A government that “gets stuff done” is, inevitably, a government that expands its power and spends money it doesn’t have on things it shouldn’t be doing. However, I have to wonder whether this is really the smartest political strategy for Republicans to pursue. As the 1995 shutdown crisis demonstrated, these types of tactics seldom play well with the public and it seems to me that the GOP would be drastically misreading the results of next Tuesday’s election if they concluded that the public wanted them to be obstructionist rather than finding ways to work with the Democrats in the White House.

While many people have drawn analogies between this year’s elections and Bill Clinton’s move to the center after the 1994 elections, there is another historical parallel that could unfold if Congressional Republicans overplay their hand:

Under Dewey’s leadership, the Republicans had enacted a platform at their 1948 convention that called for expanding social security, more funding for public housing, civil rights legislation, and promotion of health and education by the federal government. These positions were, however, unacceptable to the conservative Congressional Republican leadership. Truman exploited this rift in the opposing party by calling a special session of Congress on “Turnip Day” (referring to an old piece of Missouri folklore about planting turnips in late July) and daring the Republican Congressional leadership to pass its own platform. The 80th Congress played into Truman’s hands, delivering very little in the way of substantive legislation during this time. The GOP’s lack of action in the “turnip” session of Congress allowed Truman to continue his attacks on the “do-nothing” Republican-controlled Congress. Truman simply ignored the fact that Dewey’s policies were considerably more liberal than most of his fellow Republicans, and instead he concentrated his fire against what he characterized as the conservative, obstructionist tendencies of the unpopular 80th Congress.

Truman toured—and transfixed — much of the nation with his fiery rhetoric, playing to large, enthusiastic crowds. “Give ’em hell, Harry,” was a popular slogan shouted out at stop after stop along the tour. However, the polls and the pundits all held that Dewey’s lead was insurmountable, and that Truman’s efforts were for naught. Indeed, Truman’s own staff considered the campaign a last hurrah. The only person who appears to have considered Truman’s campaign to be winnable was the President himself, who confidently predicted victory to anyone and everyone who would listen to him. However, even Truman’s own wife had private doubts that her husband could win.

Ultimately, of course, Harry Truman did pull off a win, and it was largely thanks to his barnstorming campaign against the Republican Congress.

If Republicans really do go forward with their “no compromises,” gridlock strategy, one could see Obama taking a tack similar to Truman’s in 1948. In fact, if you’ve followed Obama’s stump speeches these past few weeks, he’s already started to do that:

President Barack Obama dusted off old campaign slogans at an 11th-hour rally here Sunday, hoping to mobilize African-American and youth voters to back Democrats with three weeks to go before November’s midterm election.

“On Nov. 2, I need you as fired up as you were in 2008,” Mr. Obama said, with Vice President Joe Biden at his side. “They said ‘No you can’t elect a skinny guy with a funny name to the presidency of the United States.’ What did you say?”

The crowd, which included union members, African-Americans and young people, responded, “Yes we can!”

(…)

Mr. Obama devoted much of his speech to criticizing Republican policies, including what he described as a GOP proposal to extend tax cuts to the rich. Republicans are pushing to extend all tax cuts introduced under the Bush administration and which are due to expire at the end of the year, on the grounds that raising taxes would hurt the country’s nascent economic recovery. Mr. Obama and other Democrats want to extend cuts only for families making less than $250,000 a year.

Referring to Republicans’ “Pledge to America” manifesto detailing their candidates’ positions on issues, including a call to roll back the health-care overhaul, Mr. Obama said: “Republicans might have a new name for it. But it’s the same old stuff they’ve been peddling for years.”

This rhetoric isn’t going to do much to stem the Republican tide this year, it seems, but one could easily see it having a different effect two years from now when Republicans have a record of their own to defend and a potentially controversial candidate at the top of their ticket.

It’s usually foolish to count an incumbent President out when they’re running for re-election. Harry Truman taught us that lesson, and Barack Obama may teach it again if the Republicans end up playing into his hands.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, Congress, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Republicans will be elected to office because the American people do not like the Obama agenda. That is a fact. Are you suggesting once they are in office they should somehow compromise the reasons they were elected and make nice with a President who states to McCain. “Senator, the election is over”? I would just remind Obama, Mr. President, the election is over. I want to remind those who think otherwise. Elections have consequences. I guess American is not as ” in to” Healthcare reform as done by Democrats, stimulus packages which do not stimulate and climate legislation known as cap and trade and the rest of the socialist takeover as the left would like to believe. You want to see trouble? Just let some of the elections be stolen, like in Washington state. Doug, there seems to be red tinges to your libertarian stance.

  2. John Personna says:

    Republicans are promising gridlock?

    Are things so swell that we want lock-in?

    Lock-in on health care?

  3. sam says:

    ” but one could easily see it having a different effect two years from now when Republicans have a record of their own to defend and a potentially controversial candidate at the top of their ticket”

    Indeed, indeed. If the Republicans win the House, it won’t be because they’ve earned the victory. We’re not Them is not a governing philosophy. People who will count in the 2012 elections, that is, Independents, are not angry with Obama and the Democrats because of something they’ve done. Rather, they’re angry because what was done hasn’t seemed to work as well as was be hoped. That’s an important distinction to bear in mind. Folks aren’t pissed off at the stimulus on principle, for example, they’re pissed because it hasn’t born fruit in their eyes. The Republicans will make a deadly mistake if they follow the McConnell strategy of continuing noncooperation on the theory that Democratic policies are universally, or near universally, disdained. Lack of results is what is disdained. Unfortunately for the Republicans, and fortunately for the Democrats, it looks as if the GOP actually believes its rhetoric.

  4. Wayne says:

    Gridlock is much much better than what is going on now. Most liberals idea of compromise is do it their way. That may be the type of compromise you are willing to give but many of the rest of us we are not so willing.

    Perhaps Obama will pull a Clinton and move to the right and be willing to actually “compromise”. He hasn’t shown any such inclination in the past and I don’t see him doing it now. Hopefully I’m wrong but I doubt it.

    Isn’t it amazing when you hear many talk of the need to “compromise” they never mention that the Democrats need to compromise as well?

  5. Wayne says:

    Re “Independents, are not angry with Obama and the Democrats because of something they’ve done”

    I disagree. Passing bills the public doesn’t like, massive increase in deficit spending, passing bills they have not read, passing major legislation without bipartisan support, Louisiana Purchase and much more is all things they have done that people are angry about.

    Yes if the economy was doing better, the Democrats would be better off. However if you think that is the only reason people are angry with them then you are fooling yourself.

  6. John Personna says:

    What is happening now is new debt records. They grow out of existing structural problems – levels of spending and taxation. They are not being driven by new spending bills at this point. They are built in.

    If you lock-in, you lock-in expanding debt.

    Still on board for that?

  7. John Personna says:

    Btw, remember that I’m a genuine independent who would cut spending. Neither party has shown me the cuts.

  8. Tea Partier says:

    “no compromise” isn’t the same as “promising gridlock”. For one, absolutely NO compromise. Any compromise with obama means higher spending, more debt, and more government intrusion, because that’s all he wants. So, I’m perfectly fine with “no compromise”. Obama needs to do the compromising now. He tried his ultra radical agenda, it has almost destroyed the country. Now it’s time for him to get schooled by the public and start obeying us, as a good servant should.

  9. John Personna says:

    But Tea, wouldn’t genuine (not fake) compromise bridge the budget gap?

    Or are you so opposed to compromise that you’d rather have Higher spending?

  10. sam says:

    “Passing bills the public doesn’t like, massive increase in deficit spending, passing bills they have not read, passing major legislation without bipartisan support, Louisiana Purchase and much more is all things they have done that people are angry about.”

    Yeah, that’s the official Tea Party line, but I don’t believe it. Oh, I believe that TPers are exercised, I just don’t think the rest of the country is all that pissed off at the policies in principle. They’re pissed, to repeat myself, because the stimulus didn’t work. As for the health care reform, to take an another example, just what parts of that do you think the Republicans will really try to undo? Preexisting conditions? Cancellation when you get sick? Coverage for children? Low cost pools for the uninsured? You think they would actually try to repeal those things?

  11. Wayne says:

    Re “If you lock-in, you lock-in expanding debt”

    I’m not sure what you mean by that. If you are talking that gridlock would mean having to have continued spending resolution at last year rate is only true if the GOP agree to such a thing. Clearly they wouldn’t have too and hopefully wouldn’t be foolish enough to do so.

    Sam. You don’t believe it since it doesn’t fit your agenda. The truth still remains it is true.
    What you stated is what everyone wanted the bill to do. If that was all it did then it would have had bipartisan support. However the Democrats went way overboard in other areas while leaving out key reform in other areas. They put in mandatory coverage, provisions that would greatly push people toward the “Government” programs. Tort reform that was greatly needed was lift out. There are provisions in it which were discovered that even the Democrats can’t defend.

    As Pelosi stated, we have to pass it so we know what is in it. Do you really think that is the way legislation should be done?

  12. Wayne says:

    Oh an example of Obama in on of his speeches indicating he will not be willing to compromise.

    “We don’t mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they gotta sit in back. “

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101025/ap_on_el_pr/us_obama

    Can you imagine if a Republican said this about the Democrats and\or Obama?

  13. Tano says:

    “Perhaps Obama will pull a Clinton and move to the right and be willing to actually “compromise”. He hasn’t shown any such inclination in the past ”

    huh?
    Is that why card check is the law of the land? Is that why we have a single payer health care system now? Is that why we have a public option? Is that why the stimulus was less than what the leading Democratic economists calculated that it should be? Is that why tax breaks were a significant part of the stimulus?

    All these compromises in the face of a party who has made it manifestly clear that they are NOT interested in the least in forging a workable compromise for the good of the country, but rather doing everything they can in pursuit of their one true goal – the political defeat of Obama.

  14. matt says:

    “Can you imagine if a Republican said this about the Democrats and\or Obama?”

    The better question is when don’t they?

  15. john personna says:

    Re “If you lock-in, you lock-in expanding debt”

    I’m not sure what you mean by that. If you are talking that gridlock would mean having to have continued spending resolution at last year rate is only true if the GOP agree to such a thing. Clearly they wouldn’t have too and hopefully wouldn’t be foolish enough to do so.

    I don’t think that the little bills, the ones that come up year to year, really change that much. As I understand it, the big ticket items (entitlements, defense, etc.) are long term legislation, and need new legislation to change them.

    That’s what I mean about this strange call for gridlock. You can’t change them with gridlock.

  16. sam says:

    @Wayne

    Sam. You don’t believe it since it doesn’t fit your agenda.

    And you don’t because it doesn’t fit your’s? Look, all this subject to empirical verification after the election. If the GOP takes the House, let’s just see what they do. I predict re health care, they won’t do squat. Well, if one takes them at their word, they ain’t gonna do squat anyway, except for hold hearings. But they will have to do something: submit a budget. Let’s revisit this if they do take the House and see what they do. I’m afraid you’re gonna be disappointed.

    Oh, and

    “What you stated is what everyone wanted the bill to do”

    That’s what the bill does. And closes the donut hole for seniors. You think they will try and repeal that? And if you think the people at large are vexed over a lack of tort reform in the bill, you need to get out more.

    You know, we had long discussion of elites and the bubbles they’re supposed to live in. The Tea Party is living in a bubble, too. When it breaks though, all you’ll have is more sorrow and anger, only this time it’ll be directed at the Republican professionals who co-opted you guys, then stiffed you. That’ll pale anything you might be feeling about Democrats now.

  17. Wayne says:

    Mandatory spending is about 56% for FY 2011 with Social Security being a large part of that.

  18. Wayne says:

    Re “That’s what the bill does”
    It does a great deal more than that and even the way they did those things were screw up.

    There are a great deal more Tea Party types than the elites. So which is worst, people living in a great big bubble or ones in a little tiny bubble?
    One should be cautious about telling Peasants to eat cake. You may not like it when that bubble burst.

  19. D says:

    A do thing congress? This is the first congress since LBJ that has tried to give those of us in the bottom two tiers a break.

  20. Gridlock versus Stimulus II?

    Gridlock versus Cap and Trade?

    Gridlock versus Card Check?

    Gridlock versus even more Obamacare?

    Gridlock versus Amnesty?

    Gridlock versus more “Financial Reform”?

    Yeah, who would want gridlock? At least until the next election anway?

  21. Juneau: says:

    @ sam

    People who will count in the 2012 elections, that is, Independents, are not angry with Obama and the Democrats because of something they’ve done. Rather, they’re angry because what was done hasn’t seemed to work as well as was be hoped.

    You are deluded. If what you suggest is true – and it is not the direction which is the problem – then the electorate would be willing to give the Liberals and Obama more time by keeping them in power. The electorate knows that the Democrats and Obama own this economy. The fact that independents are abandoning the left and Obama during this cycle clearly shows the opposite of what you claim to be the case. They know the the direction has been wrong, the decisions have been ineffectual and counter-productive, and no one wants more of what Obama has to offer – at least not without an opposing party to bring some common sense and sanity into the equation.

  22. Juneau: says:

    @ sam

    They’re pissed, to repeat myself, because the stimulus didn’t work.

    Put another way , they’re pissed because Obama and the Democrats pissed away 3 TRILLION dollars of new IOUs for almost no gain. Zero.

    But I’m sure you feel that that is just an unfortunate consequence, rather than the epic failure in vision and leadership it really represents.

  23. Juneau: says:

    @ Tano

    Is that why card check is the law of the land? Is that why we have a single payer health care system now? Is that why we have a public option?

    Surely you are playing the joker… the Democrats didn’t need the GOP to pass any of those bills. How can you possibly stretch reality enough to call not pushing these through as some sort of compromise with Republicans? The democrats could have passed them without a single GOP vote.

    The universe of the left just becomes more and more strange as the election gets closer. Next you’ll be trying to tell us all that Obama’s policies are not wrong, it’s just that the people are too stupid to understand them. Oh, wait… never mind. That one has already been put in play by the child-prince and his minions.

  24. ponce says:

    Gridlock means the Bush tax cuts will expire.

  25. rodney dill says:

    It’s all semantics… People don’t want the Republicans to cause gridlock as much as they want them to restrict the rampant idiocy of the Democrat agenda.

    It may appear to detractors as gridlock, but is a necessary step in getting our Country back on track.

  26. sookie says:

    Yes, that’s exactly what we want..

    The Pub are unlikely to do much real rollback of Obamacare.

    He is going to be in office another 2 years at least. Likely another 6. One of the reasons that Harry, Nancy and The Won put all the chips in the pot with HCR and bluffed the hand they had (Pubs are really bad poker players) They knew it was unlikely that even if they lost both the house and the senate, they would likely still have filibuster proof minority, plus the veto until it was fully implemented enough that there would be no turning back.

    Even if the Pubs were to obtain a filibuster proof majority and the WH in 2 years they won’t chip away too much at the basic plan. We’ll be too far in by then…. and they don’t really want to because from an historical perspective they also want to be seen as on the ‘good’ side of this. Just fixing the ‘bad’ part of HCR.

    From the perspective of the economy, letting the dust settle, i.e. not doing anything will give business time to figure out the lay of the land and decide to jump in, in what ever way seems prudent or advantagous and create jobs. Unemployment may not go down to Bush levels but a couple of 2-3 points will seem like old times…

    But to more fully answer your questions. Yes, we want them to be obstructionist. From my perspective, we should never, ever, have one party in charge of the entire playground. And we should be voting out people who think that politics is the art of compromise (especially if they are always on the side that caves… are you listening Pubs?).

    One party does so much damage when unconstrained. We want, we need, each party to keep in check the other. It’s really what the founders intended when they set up the checks and balances. It was not intended to run smoothly. But to be a bumpy ride.

    Would have been nice if we could have gotten gridlock before the Dem’s (or Pub’s for that matter) took complete control… but you roll with the congress you have.

    We’d be better off to pay them to play golf and not do anything else but I’m afraid we couldn’t talk them into it. They’re lawmakers. They need to make laws.

    I am kidding of course… but not much.

  27. john personna says:

    Rodney, the Republicans themselves are promoting “gridlock.” That’s the shocker, it is not a term being put on them.

    It may appear to detractors as gridlock, but is a necessary step in getting our Country back on track.

    In the same way that a journey of 1000 miles begins by sitting on your ass … no, that’s not right …

  28. anjin-san says:

    > is a necessary step in getting our Country back on track.

    I guess the right really has forgotten that when we were “on track” the destination was a depression.