Throughout the current season of the Congressional Circus, now entering its fifth year, one obvious fact is that everyone must bear some responsibility for the inaction that is plaguing our legislature.
First, the culture of obstructionism on the part of the GOP is probably the most significant issue at hand. Harry Reid, in his six and a half years as Senate Majority Leader, has had to face over 400 filibusters, effectively curbing his ability to push legislation from the House or to promote his own legislative agenda. As a point of reference, Lyndon Johnson, who is considered one of the most effective Senate Majority Leaders in history, faced the filibuster once between 1955 and 1961, the year he resigned.
Meanwhile, House Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act 41 times as of the beginning of September. This unruly behavior has completely stopped the GOP from being a legitimate opposition party since they do not actively promote an agenda other than blocking legislation. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell stated it himself when he said to the National Journal in 2010 that his “number one priority is making sure Barack Obama’s a one term president.”
Lacking the ability to lead within the House and the Senate, the party’s main voice is the president, who has come up short on almost every issue since he took office in 2009, not always to his own fault. Recently, there were many instances in which his response added legitimacy to the outrageous claims of the GOP. The “Birther” incident and his defensive reaction to the storming of the Libyan Embassy in September of 2012 distract the nation from debating appropriate issues.
Furthermore, Obama’s passivity on issues such as immigration and education reform–the main focus of his 2013 State of the Union Address–has lead to the complete withdrawal of those issues from national debate. This all adds to the continuance of the economic problems that have not been adequately addressed in recent legislative sessions.
The cyclical nature of congressional turmoil–with one party obstructing, leading to the other party not being able to consider legislation–becomes strikingly obvious. It’s not clear how this issue can be resolved, as the federal government has never faced factious behavior this severe before, but two clear facts remain: the nation cannot be governed by obstruction, nor can it be governed through passive legislature.