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Vestal: Futility source of pride in U.S. House

Cathy McMorris Rodgers has not distinguished herself as one who makes a lot of bold, off-the-cuff statements.

Even as her profile rises, with convention speeches and appearances on the Sunday morning shows, she often conveys the sense of someone tiptoeing very carefully from word to word.

Even as she and her fellow House Republicans tack to starboard harder than Captain Ahab, she loads her verbal cannon cautiously. She was famously stumped on TV earlier this year when asked to provide an example of a program she would cut – after talking about cuts merely forever and ever – and when she took the PR lead in the War on the War on Women, even at her best moments she seemed to teeter fearfully on the edge of putting down a wrong step.

Maybe debate and extemporaneous speech are just not her thing. I’ve tried on several occasions to secure interviews with the congresswomen, including this week, always without success. Once, instead of an interview, I was offered a link, through a spokesman, to a statement by House Speaker John Boehner. Another time, a week of back and forth with her spokesman produced a carefully worded statement that said less than it seemed to.

So it was interesting to see her go out on a limb recently on Twitter, when she made this frank and contrary statement: “Proud of the work we’ve done during the 112th Congress!”

Proud? Well, sure, Congresswoman – you and 10 percent of the population.

The 112th Congress may or may not have been the worst in history – but it’s running that race like Seabiscuit at the moment. Its public approval is at historic lows; the House GOP notably turned to the head of Dominos this week for advice about how to turn around a lousy brand. Among its achievement was the legislative derring-do that helped bring the country to the brink of shutdown and debt-ceiling crises, and damaged the nation’s credit rating.

McMorris Rodgers and the House are more than ready to do it again, she told Politico recently: “I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious. We always talk about whether or not we’re going to kick the can down the road. I think the mood is that we’ve come to the end of the road.”

OK, then. The House is “serious.” So “serious” that even Newt Gingrich – a man who helped shut the government down once himself – has suggested House Republicans may be going too far with “a threat they can’t sustain.”

Maybe the best way to figure out what will count as “serious” in the 113th Congress is to look backward at the 112th for what made McMorris Rodgers proud.

Her tweet linked to a report produced by Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. The report asserts: “Our record in the 112th Congress is an impressive one.”

It’s a mystery that more people are not impressed. Upton’s report outlines some of the main achievements of the committee and the House:

The committee held 118 hearings.

It held 69 bill “markups,” which are sessions of debating and amending legislation.

Committee members spent 569.81 hours “hard at work in our hearing rooms.” This amounts to a little more than 10 hours per committee member.

Committee members offered 165 amendments.

The committee advanced 40 bills that were eventually signed into law, part of its year of “major legislative production.”

Impressed yet? Upton’s not done. The committee launched a new website. It established a series of “policy papers.” It held forums. And it passed a long, long list of bills – which went on to passage in the full House – that were absolutely, utterly certain to die whimpering at the Senate door.

The committee and the House approved scads of bills intended to repeal or chip away at Obamacare. Over and over again, coming at it from first this angle and then that, never once with the slightest hope of actually leaving the House for the real world.

The first item on the long list of “legislative accomplishments” in the Upton report, which made McMorris Rodgers so proud, was: Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act. Passed the House and died. Third on the list: Protecting Access to Health Care Act. Passed the House and died. In short order, a flurry of bills – targeting this or that provision of Obamacare – passed the House and died. Then, following all of those, came … the Repeal of Obamacare Act. Passed the House and died.

Pretending repeatedly to repeal Obamacare was not the only major legislative accomplishment. There were also bills to make sure taxpayers don’t pay for abortions, or that Obamacare doesn’t pay for abortions. Bills to hobble environmental regulators, defund NPR and to stop the “war on coal.”

Passed the House, passed the House, passed the House and died.

Points of pride, every one.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.
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