By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
This past weekend’s Sunday morning talk shows were abuzz about how the House Republicans are in disarray, and that they are re-defining the concept of a “do nothing Congress.” NBC Chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd said on “Meet the Press:” “The Democrats are starting to feel like they have something to run on, or run against. Take the House Republicans and their own struggle to pass even small bills, like one to deal with the emergency at the border.” On Friday afternoon President Barack Obama held a press briefing at which he once again complained that the Republicans refuse to pass anything significant, thus compelling him to take matters into his own hands.
Yet the Republicans did pass a bill addressing the border crisis before starting their five-week recess, while the Democratic-run Senate left for its five-week recess without passing anything to address that issue. It may be true that what the Republicans passed had no chance of becoming law, because it would have died in the Senate, but the Senate should have stayed in session, passed their own version, and gone to conference to work out a compromise. The President should have insisted on it, and pushed to make it happen. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
President Obama’s assertion that Congress did nothing this year is a facet of many of his speeches, and therefore his political fundraising. Media outlets such as The Washington Post have gone along, republishing his speeches as news: except that the Whitehouse.gov emblem appears in the upper right-hand corner of such videos, warning the viewer that this is a canned White House press release. How can the Post present a speech dreamed up, written, and packaged by the White House on their website as “news” with a unique headline of “Obama to Congress: ‘Stop being mad all the time,” without commentary? It’s not the first time that Post TV has used a WH.gov video.
“So far this year, Republicans in Congress keep blocking or voting down just about every idea that would have some of the biggest impact on middle class and working class families,” says President Obama in the video. “So, that’s why this year my administration, what we said was, we want to work with Congress, we want to work with Republicans and Democrats to get things going but we can’t wait. So if they’re not going to do anything we’ll do what we can on our own,” the President later added.
Ironically, the Post did not link to its own fact check of President Obama’s words below the video. The President had made the assertion much stronger before: “So far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked every serious idea to strengthen the middle class,” he said. The President thereby earned himself 3 Pinocchios from the Post’s Glenn Kessler. That would have been valuable context for anyone watching the video, but instead, the Post-TV section becomes an ad for Obama.
Kessler points to bills passed this year that aided the middle class, including the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, Farm Bill, Home Heating Emergency Assistance Through Transportation Act, and the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. “But, let’s face it, the Republicans have their own list of bills passed in the House but which have failed to progress in the Senate, which they also claim are serious and enjoy popular support,” writes Kessler.
And therein lies the heart of the issue. “There are 356 bills as of tonight that we have passed in the house, 98 percent of those are with bipartisan votes,” said Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) last week on the Greta Van Susteren Show. “And the bulk of them, two-thirds of them have had a two-thirds majority in the house and Harry Reid won’t take them up.”
“And if he wants to deal with the energy issues, the high prices, well, we’ve got 16 bills over there waiting on that,” continued Rep. Blackburn. “Looking at taxes, we have seven bills that would reduce the tax burden on hard working taxpayers. We’ve got 31 bills that deal with government waste, fraud and abuse, which is one of my big issues, you know, the list goes on and on.”
Back in January Andrew Stiles of National Review called it Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) “obstructionism.” “Reid has refused to bring up measures that would almost certainly pass with bipartisan support, such as legislation approving construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, or the aforementioned medical-device-tax repeal,” wrote Stiles. “He has also refused to consider legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran: A majority of Senate Democrats support the idea, but it’s strongly opposed by the White House.”
Kessler also cites the Keystone XL pipeline as a serious House bill issue which is, according to one poll, “supported by Americans by a 3 to 1 margin.”
Kessler missed the mark when he said that the issue is that “the president is engaging in rhetorical overkill” and that “to claim that ‘every serious idea’ has been blocked is going too far—given that the president lauded at least three bills as aiding the middle class.” The issue is that the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, wouldn’t allow legislation to be passed because it reinforces the “do nothing Congress” meme and therefore gives the President free rein to proceed with the executive actions he promised the country in his State of the Union address this year. The administration is making it very clear that it plans to take such executive action to address not only the border crisis down south, but possibly to legalize five million or more people who are in this country illegally.
“While the president is hardly the first to label the legislature a ‘Do Nothing’ Congress (Harry Truman famously did so in the 1950s), the president has directed his ire at the House rather than the Congress as a whole, leaving the Senate unscathed,” wrote Jeryl Bier for The Weekly Standard last month. “But an analysis of the numbers shows that his shots may be misdirected.” Using govtrack.us, Bier estimates that 297 bills had been passed by the House as of July 2; only 59 bills had been passed by the Senate as of July 2.
According to the Govtrack.us website, as of this writing, in the 113th Congress 363 bills have passed the House and 69 bills have passed the Senate, whereas 142 bills have been signed by the President. The number of bills passed by the Senate has been lower since the 110th Congress, according to Bier.
It’s not just Republican bills that are stymied when they reach the Senate. In “House Dems to Senate: Pass our bills,” The Hill reported back in March that “Out of the 195 House-passed bills that are now stalled in the Senate, 31 were written by Democrats, and many have been awaiting Senate approval for close to a year,” although many measures are not controversial.
The Hill newspaper quotes a spokesman as saying that a Democratic representative might seek an “administrative remedy” if the legislative route doesn’t move. This just provides more power to the Obama administration, and reinforces his assertion that executive action is necessary.
But would executive action really have been necessary for the supposed “do-nothing” Congress if Sen. Harry Reid had been willing to play bipartisan legislative ball this year?
How does the public view Congress? Not very well. The gridlocked Congress, in the latest Gallup Poll, shows their approval rating at 15%. But the last time the Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress, and thus there was no gridlock, was in 2010, and Congressional approval was at 13%. That came at the end of the Democrats’ control of both Houses of Congress, and Congress’s approval was lower than today’s gridlocked, “do nothing” Congress. Just taking these two snapshots in time—today versus the end of the Democrats’ stranglehold on Congress back then—by a slight margin, the public prefers today.