Carol Shea-Porter - The Misadventures of the 112th Congress

As I write this column, the country waits to find out if the ringmaster of the House of Representatives, Speaker Boehner, is going to be able to control his members and get them to vote for the payroll tax cut extension with its compromises, or will his group  walk away from 160 million Americans who need a tax cut and just go on vacation? Usually this year, they have chosen vacation—lots of it—but I hope that after stopping the payroll tax cuts from being paid for by a tiny surtax on millionaires and billionaires, the House Republicans will be moved by the plight of the middle class and finally do something for them.  After all, they have spent the whole legislative year either doing nothing but pushing the country to the edge of disaster, or thanking their special interest friends by helping them legislatively.  While the Republican House has not produced a single jobs bill, they have created crisis and deadlock, and their antics have created worry and uncertainty around the globe.

In case you think this is too critical, let’s review the year. I think the best overall summary of this 112th Congress comes from Fox News, believe it or not. Chad Pergram, who covers Congress for Fox News, said in his December 13, 2011 column,  “This year’s Congress is the Indiana Jones of Congresses. It exists in a perpetual state of distress. It repeatedly dashes out of some underground temple before being crushed by a gigantic, booby-trapped boulder.”   To this, I might add, of their own making.

So, what has the House been doing?  The House has taken some ugly votes, with the help of the NH-01 Representative, who voted with leadership 96% of the time, and the help of the NH-02 Representative, who voted with leadership 86% of the time. Here are some of the year’s highlights.   They voted to privatize Medicare.  They voted to repeal the health care law, but offered no substitute.  Both our NH members of the House of Representatives voted with the Republican majority against funding for the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth. The Republicans in the House voted to cut the Community Development Block Grants by 62%.  They voted to cut school funding and money for first responders and for community health centers, among other cuts.

 They took a lot of votes against the environment.  Our NH-01 Representative got an F from the Sierra Club.  The National Clean Water Network, a group of 1,200 local, state and national non-profits who work to protect our water, said the NH-01 Representative never once voted for clean water. Even Ron Paul got a 7%. The NH-02 rep voted for clean water a little more than half the time.  While the House did not want to protect our water, they did protect oil companies by voting against cutting any taxpayer subsidies for oil companies.

The House also went on vacation without passing a bill to reauthorize the FAA, which threw 4,000 federal workers out of work, laid off thousands of construction workers, and cost the federal government $300 million. That move earned them bipartisan rage from the middle class, and it also showed that they simply could not get the job done. As the Republican former member of Congress who is now the Secretary of Transportation, Ray Lahood, said, “Because of their inaction, states and airports won’t be able to work on their construction projects, and too many people will have to go without a paycheck. This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”

Actually, this is no way to run a government. The Congress almost shut the government down a number of times this year because they could not pass their appropriations bills, and they had to pass continuing resolutions to keep going. The House Republicans not only almost shut the government down, they also brought us to the edge of default when they initially refused to raise the debt-ceiling, and got our credit rating reduced as a result. Now the newspapers are asking if Speaker Boehner can control his caucus. The larger question is, can voters control them? While Congress has become more and more divided, and agreements are harder to come by, this 112th Congress has been the worst. As Chad Pergram said in his September 21, 2011 column, “These days, those cliffhanger serials seem to run on C-Span, with the 112th Congress narrowly averting disaster at every turn.” So far, this Congress has been the disaster.

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Former congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represented New Hampshire’s 1st District from 2007-11. She is seeking a third term in the November 2012 election. She wrote the proposal for and established a nonprofit social service agency, which continues to serve all ages. She taught politics and history and is a strong supporter of Medicare and Social Security.