Republicans in Congress Have Actually Achieved a Lot

The myth that Republicans in Congress have stabbed their voters in the back needs to be put to rest.

Washington DC
View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, February 17, 2015 (Matt Popovich)

There is a persistent belief on the American right that Republicans in Congress have done little to stop President Barack Obama. Commentators, especially of the fringe variety, claim the party — which has held a majority in the House of Representatives since 2011 and in the Senate since 2015 — stabbed its supporters in the back to enable the Democrats.

Jonathan Bernstein argues at Bloomberg View that this is the sort of myth that makes conservative voters susceptible to a candidate like Donald Trump, who promises to uproot the entire political system.

I argued here last week that some conservatives are coming to terms with their complicity in Trump’s rise. They recognize that they have spent too much time vilifying their allies as opposed to their opponents and raised unreasonable expectations as to what a party can do when it only controls one branch of government.

But others, like Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart and Drudge, continue to peddle the stab-in-the-back narrative. They won’t be satisfied no matter how many times conservatives get their way in Washington or block a Democratic policy proposal, because — like Trump — they thrive on grievance, not success.

So it’s worth pointing out the Republicans’ successes when you don’t read too much about them in the right-wing media.

Consider the alternative

Bernstein argues that if Democrats had retained their majority, they would almost certainly have passed immigration reform, a climate change bill and even some sort of gun safety legislation.

Democrats on appropriations committees would have spent more on domestic programs (no one would ever have heard of a sequester) and Democrats on the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees would probably have paid for that additional spending with additional taxes on the wealthy. The minimum wage would be higher. Obama’s preschool and community-college initiatives would be law.

The president could also have nominated, and appointed, someone more liberal than Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court — a big deal for conservatives, who see the court as a last resort on everything from abortion to guns to campaign finance.

What is more, Obama could have filled the current eleven vacancies in circuit courts and 72 vacancies in district courts, tilting the judicial balance in the country further to the left.

The nature of opposition

It’s true Republicans in Congress haven’t been able to enact many of their own plans. There have been spending cuts, but there hasn’t been conservative tax reform. President Obama’s health reforms are in trouble, but that owes more to the marketplace than to dozens of failed Republican attempts to defund the legislation. Needless to say, there hasn’t been conservative health reform either.

But that is the nature of opposition. You don’t get to make your own policy. You do your best to stop the ruling party from enacting and implementing theirs. By that measure, Republicans have been hugely successful in the last five years.

If anything, a little too successful. Click here to read more about how Republican obstructionism and years of surrender to the hard right have now come back to haunt them.