After this week, congress will recess for the month of August and reconvene in early September. At first glance it seems as if the 113th Congress is even less productive than the "do nothing" 112th Congress. It seems as if the 113th left off right where the 112th did. That's not to say there have not been some important pieces of legislation passed, but the majority of those feats were second time, second chance deals.
The most recent example is the fix congress made to the student loan crisis. Due to congress's inaction on July 1, student loan interest rates doubled on new loans from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. There were many different versions of legislation to remedy this daunting problem such as tying interest rates to ten year Treasury bonds or allowing students to borrow at the same rate at which banks borrow from the Fed (which is significantly lower than interest rates for student loans). Members of congress want to go back to their districts and be met by their constituents with praise which may point to the new deal struck regarding student loans.
Of course there is also the dreaded sequester. Congress allowed the payroll tax holiday for middle class Americans to expire as part of an eleventh hour deal back in January yet they could not come to terms on entitlements or tax reform leading to a set of across the board cuts so devastating that congress themselves never thought they would allow them to go into effect. Since then, Congress has just been nibbling at the edges rather than trying to remedy the cuts.
Another noteworthy non-accomplishment of the 113th Congress was the failure of the Senate to pass the bi-partisan Manchin-Toomey gun bill. The bill would have set forth stricter background checks and closed gun show loopholes. Contrary to conservative rhetoric, the bill would not have created a federal database of all gun owning Americans.
As congress breaks for recess, there is another crisis looming on the horizon: the debt debate. There is going to be, yet again, another hellacious debate over raising the debt ceiling. Many Republicans have signed on to a list pledging they will not raise our debt limit or a budget deal unless a new budget defunds Obamacare. This has been the GOP fervor for a long time but now they are stepping things into high gear. On October 1, the market will be open for individuals to purchase insurance plans which suit their needs. Many are skeptical and fearful of this deadline because they feel the states, who will be monitoring the market places locally, are not ready and the law is too complicated for them to implement. Republicans tout that Obamacare will hurt jobs and create higher premiums especially if not enough young people enter into the insurance purchasing market.
I, as well as everyone else in the beltway media, have been talking about the Republican re-branding after their defeat for the Executive office in 2012 and how they are still at a disconnect with voters. However, now they seem to be mobilizing and getting organized. Obamacare is the fundamental issue unifying Republicans. GOP lawmakers are urging their colleagues to sign up to defund Obamacare or else face harsh primary battles in their re-election bids. This is a scary notion for Democrats with the implementation of Obamacare so close and Midterm elections right around the corner. Republicans may need to sign on in order to maintain their precious seats in 2014.
Mitch McConnell recently held a Tea Party Caucus meeting in which he was looking to make friends with the movement. Among guests were Senator John McCain and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. A Tea Party supporter stated Priebus “realizes that that’s why we lost in 2012, because we had this division. So his whole goal is to find all these common ground issues like Obamacare and defunding it that will get us unified." As the 2014 midterms are approaching, the party must unite if they plan to take back House and Senate seats. Senator Ted Cruz recently said “What Republicans don’t often do well is focus on, ‘How do we win?’"
The so called do nothing congress has become so bad that President Obama has had to side step them. The President has caught flack for his address on the climate and his "war on coal" as well as his speech on the economy. Obama opponents are upset that he is taking matters into his own hands rather than going through congress. As Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post notes, many are upset that Obama is not having more luncheons or golf outings with members of Congress. The fact is that Obama has tried numerous times to reach out with olive branch outings and has attempted to comprise but to no avail. He has come to terms with the fact that if he wants results, he must do it himself.
The Democratic Party has seen some turmoil recently which does not bode well given the crisis around the corner. Politico reports fourteen freshman Democrats have defected and voted against the employer mandate. While Obamacare is the President's baby and his biggest legislative achievement thus far, it was supposed to be a good thing for America as well as for Democrats. Now it seems as if it is a way for Republicans to finally get on the same page and further obstruct the wheels of government. Republicans are forming a plan for 2014 and it could have drastic effects on the scope of congress after 2014.
As Politico also notes, the government funds will run dry on September 30 without a continuing resolution from congress. John Boehner does not want to see a government shutdown anymore than anyone else does. After the disastrous sequester a government shutdown is not totally out of the realm of possibility. Republicans have attempted to repeal Obamacare 40 times in the House even though they know it will not pass the Senate further contributing to the "do nothingness." But now that the party is beginning to look organized, a government shutdown could be in our future as Obamacare is directly in the GOP's crosshairs. The irony in a potential government shutdown as noted by the Washington Post's Sarah Kliff, is that Obamacare will still be able to function and will be unaffected by a government shutdown. So, as legislators go back to their districts this August to their constituents, will they be proud of the job they have done so far, or will they be once again chastised for putting politics above policy. After September 30, 2013 and November 4, 2014, we will get that answer.