Editorial: ‘Adult’ Congress?

Will House Republicans Try to Solve Problems — or Just Posture?

Posted January 4, 2011 at 6:22pm

In September 2008, with the financial markets and the economy facing collapse, House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) bravely urged his colleagues to support President George W. Bush’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“These are the votes that separate the men from the boys and the girls from the women,” he said. But only 64 of his Republican colleagues supported the rescue, with 133 opposed, defeating the bailout bill — and this was two years before the tea party became a powerful force in the GOP.

Ultimately, the measure passed — after the stock market fell 777 points following the House vote. But the episode points out the difficulty facing Boehner as he tries to exert adult supervision over an ideologically charged Republican Conference.

Boehner told the New Yorker that “the first really big adult moment” for Republicans will come when it’s time — probably this spring — to vote on increasing the national debt ceiling, risking a government default if it doesn’t. 

Actually, though, the next two years are going to be filled with “adult moments” for the entire Congress.

Will it play partisan political games, merely keying up issues for the 2012 elections, or actually try to solve some of America’s searing problems in spite of divided government?

We are impressed with some steps that House Republicans have taken in their new rules package to make the chamber’s proceedings more open — video streaming of all committee sessions, posting of bills online 72 hours ahead of voting — and to maintain the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

We can’t object to the full reading of the Constitution or to mandatory statements in bills of their constitutional justification, though these seem to be more symbolic sops to the tea party than acts of adult substance.

On the other hand, it seems a violation of the spirit of committee empowerment and openness for the House to vote to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care plan without hearings and to empower the chairman of the House Budget Committee to unilaterally impose spending levels without committee or floor votes.

With fiscal 2011 already under way, the GOP plan to cut $100 billion from domestic spending would require program reductions of 30 percent. They will not be sustained by Senate Democrats or the White House, of course, but the effort will be an important and visible signal to voters about GOP priorities.

With their majority, House Republicans are now empowered to apply oversight to the Democratic administration that didn’t happen when Democrats ruled Congress. We hope investigations will be addressed to policy and performance, not designed to score political points, as signaled when Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called Obama’s administration “one of the most corrupt in history.”

Boehner and his fellow leaders are clear that their party needs to regain the trust of voters. Adult behavior, not posturing, is what voters are looking for.