Opinion: The do-nothing House GOP is back. In 2024, it’ll do worse than nothing

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It’s a new year but the same old mess in Congress. Instead of a fresh start, lawmakers return next week to their stale, dead-end arguments and legislative gridlock.

And by now the reason they’re mired in the mess is an old story: Repeatedly in 2023, we saw the dysfunction of the MAGA Republicans who narrowly took control of the House last January, making that chamber virtually ungovernable and yielding one of the least productive years in Congress’ history. Just a couple dozen mostly minor bills became law, a fraction of the usual number.

Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

The House and Senate broke for the holidays still bloodied from the unfinished sausage-making. To borrow another lawmaker metaphor, they kicked the can down the road — cans, plural — into 2024.

Yet agreement on lingering issues — spending, Ukraine aid, immigration — hardly comes more easily in an election year; the distractions of the presidential primaries start this month, in Iowa and New Hampshire. Then there is the House Republicans’ greatest distraction of all: their top-priority push to impeach President Biden, on grounds still TBD.

What we’re in for in 2024 is more of the misrule that results when one of our two major parties morphs from a small-government party into an unabashedly anti-government bloc.

The federal fiscal year is already three months old and still Congress hasn’t completed the spending bills to cover the government’s annual operations. In 2023, House Republicans provoked two near-shutdowns over four months. This year we’ll get such threats twice just within the next month.

That’s because Congress, at the insistence of House Republicans and their neophyte leader, Speaker “MAGA Mike” Johnson, illogically extended stopgap funding for federal programs in separate bills with separate cutoff dates. One measure, including money for farm, transportation, energy and veterans’ programs, expires Jan. 19; the second package, for other large domestic programs and the Pentagon, lapses Feb. 2.

That means the House and Senate will have just 10 days when they return (including a break for the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend) to reach agreement before their first budget deadline. Here’s a New Year’s prediction: House Republicans’ antics will force Congress to miss its first deadline, triggering a partial government shutdown even as the second funding deadline looms.

The hapless House Republicans say they won’t support another stopgap bill or the typical “omnibus” package combining all government funding, but they’re too divided to pass the 12 spending bills separately. Their already thin majority shrank further with the year-end resignation of dethroned Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the expulsion of fabulist fraudster George Santos; a third Republican, Ohio Rep. Bill Johnson, is resigning Jan. 21. And yet House hard-liners are upping their demands for more spending cuts and culture-war add-ons against abortion, drag shows and the like, oblivious to other House Republicans’ opposition, let alone that of the Democrat-controlled Senate.

In short, the two houses of Congress are farther apart than ever. They haven’t even agreed on the bottom-line figures for the spending bills, a prerequisite for setting funding levels for programs within them.

And virtually no one has confidence that the new speaker can corral his caucus. Johnson hails from among the anti-government hard-liners, not the pragmatists; he counts the Bible as his legislative manual and follows Donald Trump as his North Star.

As a fellow Louisianan, popular outgoing Gov. John Bel Edwards, told Politico recently, “I would feel better about Mike Johnson being speaker of the House if I felt he was someone who really believed in making government work.”

Not being able to pass essential bills is just one aspect of Republicans’ dysfunction. Blocking bills is another, and they’re good at that.

So it is that Congress hasn’t approved additional aid for Ukraine since the end of 2022, when Democrats controlled the House. With the second anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked invasion approaching, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate still favor continued Ukraine support as critical to our national security and Europe’s. Yet House Republican leaders echo Trump, Vladimir Putin’s pal, in opposition.

They’re joined by Senate Republicans, including Ukraine supporters, in insisting that Biden and Democrats support an immigration crackdown in return for more aid. Yet they can’t agree on what the new immigration measures should be. House Republicans want far more punitive changes for asylum, deportations, detentions and border security than their Senate counterparts.

A bipartisan group of senators continued negotiations for an immigration compromise over the holidays. Any deal, however, would likely draw opposition in the House from both right and left. Meanwhile, shunning compromise, Johnson and about 60 other House Republicans opted for a photo op, traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday.

Democrats are no less divided than Republicans on border issues, between progressives opposed to tough restrictions and centrists eager for Biden to cut just about any immigration deal, to blunt what’s become a perilous election-year issue for their party.

For all Congress’ challenges — funding the government, confronting decades-old migration problems and responding to the worst war in Europe since World War II and another engulfing the Mideast — House Republicans signaled last month that their focus for 2024 is what?

Impeaching Biden.

They’d reportedly like to draft articles of impeachment as soon as this month, perhaps for bribery. But they have neither the goods on Biden nor the votes.

“I haven’t seen any [evidence] yet, to date, that shows me that the president did anything wrong,” Ohio Rep. Dave Joyce, a Republican former prosecutor, told NBC News just before Christmas.

No matter — the Javerts among his party colleagues will keep claiming otherwise. And they’ll keep digging for proof, as they have for over a year.

As if they didn’t have anything else to do.

@jackiekcalmes





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