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Dysfunction, Rancor Abound During Legislative Stalemate

Sides Sling Accusations for a Dearth of Legislative Action in 112th Congress

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said Republicans are realizing that their plan to oppose what the president wants is backfiring.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today condemned efforts to paint the current session as a "do-nothing Congress," charging instead that the dysfunction plaguing the legislative branch is a result of "proposing legislation you know the other side won't support even when there's an entire menu of bipartisan proposals."

The Kentucky Republican was referring to President Barack Obama and his calls for Congress to do more. But McConnell could easily have been lobbing his critique at the House and Senate, where the divided chambers are taking fewer votes and passing little in the way of policy legislation that can attract bipartisan support and be signed into law by Obama.

The numbers are striking.

From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 last year, the House passed 752 measures, while the Senate passed 440. The president signed 115 measures into law.

During the same period this year, the House has passed 247 measures, compared with the Senate's 265. A mere 35 bills have been signed into law.

Part of the stark difference between 2010 and 2011 in the House can be chalked up to House Republican leaders' aversion to small, private bills that honor various groups and other "simple" resolutions.

But even on substantive bills, the legislative output is way off. The House passed nearly two-thirds fewer bills of this nature from January to Sept. 30 of this year, clearing 103 bills, compared with 298 in the same time period last year, according to the Congressional Record.

Several aides pointed to the simple fact that the GOP controls only the House. With Democrats in control of the Senate and White House, Republicans are able to put some of the onus on the other party for the inability to pass legislation.

On a political basis, not passing bipartisan legislation makes it easier for Republicans to contrast their record with Democrats in the other chamber and Obama next year which greatly reduces the need to have a lengthy record of legislative wins under their belts.

Some Republicans said that while they might not have much to show on the policy front over the course of the year, they can and will make the case that they have lived up to their promise to alter the course of the federal government.

"The election is all about a course correction and stopping the direction the president is going. And we've done that," a GOP lawmaker said today.

Republicans also lay blame at the feet of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for blocking dozens of policy bills that have passed the House.

"We are going to continue to try and help small businesses. The question is, 'Is the Senate going to join us?' The question is, 'What is the Senate doing?' There is clearly a sense there is a do-nothing Senate, as we continue to send bills over to try and improve the environment for small businesses," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Monday.

Cantor went on to take a further dig at the Senate, arguing that while Obama has insisted on quick action on his jobs bill by Congress as a whole, House lawmakers, "frankly, are able to do so much quicker than the Democratic-controlled Senate as far as the president's job bills are concerned."

On that point, McConnell today sought to bring up Obama's jobs bill as an amendment to currency legislation the Senate is considering, but he was blocked by Reid in a procedural move.

"I feel like we've passed a lot, just not a lot of them end up getting signed into law," a House GOP leadership aide said, pointing to a series of deregulation bills, energy bills and small-business measures that have been passed out of the House, many with some level of bipartisan support.

"Everything is focused on jobs and job creation from our perspective. It's cutting taxes and it's reducing regulations, and that's fine with me," Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) said.

"That's the difference between Republicans and Democrats ... the whole purpose of [Republicans] being here is to cut spending and reduce burdensome regulations," one leadership aide said, arguing that not pursuing bills that would appeal to Democrats is "not a bad thing for Republicans."

So it is not a surprise that neither chamber has produced much that could form the basis of a bipartisan, negotiated deal between the two chambers.

For instance, Reid's handling of legislation this year has resulted in only a handful of bills being produced that could even be taken up by the House. The most recent example of a doomed piece of legislation would be his September disaster-relief bill.

Although that passed on a bipartisan basis in the Senate, it never had a serious chance of being considered in the House. Despite clear signals from Cantor and other GOP leaders that disaster spending must include corresponding offsets, Reid went ahead without including spending reductions, and the bill died.

Likewise, House Republicans have produced few measures that have much of a chance of seeing action in the Senate. For every success exemplified by the recently enacted patent reform bill or the USA PATRIOT Act extension, there have been numerous votes to repeal Obama's health care bill or measures targeting Obama administration regulatory activities none of which Reid will ever bring to the floor.

Democrats insist it is hurting Republicans and that they are beginning to feel the pain.

"Of course it does [hurt]," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said today. He went on to quip that "the fact that we're 2 points ahead of Republicans [in favorability polls] is cold comfort. We just have more relatives."

"I think the Republicans are sensing that confrontation and partisanship is not working and that opposing everything the president puts his name to is going to backfire," Durbin added.

Republicans, however, dismissed that argument.

"I think that's ridiculous ... just like Lake Erie used to be where fish went to die, the Senate is where bills go to die," LaTourette said.

"People understand the problem is the Senate," he added.

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