When Republicans took control of the House in January they believed that the American people had handed them a mandate. Republicans believed that they had been empowered by the people to stop the big government machine run by the Obama administration. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell famously said at the time, that his number one goal was to make Obama a one term President; and with that statement a do nothing Congress reminiscent of the Truman era was born.
But as the year moved along, time and time again the misguided intransigence exhibited by this Congress has only served to bolster the President’s popularity. In fact it can be argued that the actions of this Congress may be the number one reason why the President gains a second term.
Take the recent events surrounding the wildly popular payroll tax cuts.
Yesterday the House voted 229-193 to request negotiations with the Senate on renewing the payroll tax cuts for another year. The Senate had already approved a bill extending the cuts for two months to allow Congress more time to negotiate a long term deal. The Senate Democrats had given on a number of their ideological points to get a compromise put into law. They gave on a tax increase for millionaires to fund the bill. They gave on a procedural issue to move the Keystone Pipeline forward; and they gave on the length of the extension. 39 Republican Senators agreed that it was a good compromise, and joined Democrats in passing the measure 89-10. Speaker Boehner called the compromise a “win”; citing the Pipeline provision as something Republicans really wanted.
But that wasn’t good enough for the small group of Tea Party freshman who control the House and tell the Speaker what to do. They refused to even vote on the Senate bill knowing full well it would pass and give the President a win. So rather than cast an unpopular “No” vote on giving tax cuts to Americans; the House voted to send the bill to committee to renegotiate with the Senate. That will be tough to do since Senate Majority Leader Reid has sent his troops home for the holidays. Reid responded to the House vote saying that there was no need for a conference as the Senate had already passed a bill with bi-partisan support. Boehner was last seen ducking into a cloakroom denying he had ever supported the Senate bill.
The Republican Party is being held hostage by a small group of Tea Party freshman who will go to any length to block this President. Time and time again they have quashed agreements in principle between the Speaker and the President much to the embarrassment of the party. One need only look back to the deficit negotiations, where Boehner was forced to walk away from a highly publicized agreement with the President. Or the “debt ceiling” negotiations where Tea Party stubbornness resulted in a downgrade in the country’s credit rating. Boehner’s inability to control his caucus has hurt the country, hurt his party and raised questions within his caucus about his leadership ability.
The Republicans cannot seem to get on the same page and their disjointed approach is having a negative effect on their candidate’s chances for the Presidency. According to several polls released today, the President would win a head to head contest with Mitt Romney or Ron Paul 52%-45%. He would defeat Newt Gingrich by 16%. The President’s approval rating stands at 49%; which is remarkable given the state of the economy. Meanwhile, the Republican held Congress, who in January held a poor 29% approval rating, has seen those numbers tank to an abysmal 11%.
Whether these numbers remain constant until the November elections, or whether something can give one of the Republican candidates enough of a surge to defeat the President, is anybody’s guess. But one thing is certain. The American people do not approve of the way this Congress conducts its business. And if Republicans continue along this path they will pay a heavy price at the polls next November.