But mostly, we know the problem solvers not by recent votes but by their past records and their orientation. So I would include in this group Spencer Bachus, Jim Gerlach, Jon Runyan, Frank Wolf, Jo Bonner, and the now retired Jo Ann Emerson, among the House Republicans, along with a special nod to Senator Saxby Chambliss, who put himself on the line by joining and participating in the Gang of Six, trying to find a bipartisan route to debt reduction against the stiff opposition of his own party leaders and most of the GOP Senate Conference.
If these GOPers went along with all the votes to repeal Obamacare, and if many supported confrontations on the debt limit and even voted in different ways and at different times to shut down the government before they voted to reopen it, what characterizes them, I believe, is that they were not very comfortable in those stances. And they were not all that interested in fending off the radical, no-compromise forces in their party day after day after day. There are many reasons people make the very personal decision to hang it up, but that discomfort has to be high on the collective list.
At the same time, Democrats like Waxman, Miller, Dingell and Rush Holt, among others, also have their own reasons for leaving. But the sentiment Dingell expressed the other day—coming from the longest-serving member of Congress in history, and one whose love for the House is unsurpassed—that Congress is now obnoxious and has lost its identity is more widely shared. If your central purpose in serving is to solve problems for your constituents and the country as a whole, the dynamic of the past several years is unrelentingly frustrating. Now add in the fundraising craziness, with its constant pressures and the inherent corruption of the process (soon to likely be made worse with the next reckless Supreme Court decision).
The shrinkage in the ranks of problem solvers is a symptom, not a cause, of the embarrassing product of the 113th Congress, and the likelihood is that the remainder of the year will be even less productive than what we have seen so far. The combination of the permanent campaign and the rampant tribalism makes action or compromise nearly impossible. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor early in the year scheduled a pitifully small number of days in session before the November elections, now amounting to about 80, and many of those will be pro forma or abbreviated sessions. The early strategy, reflected in the majority leader’s memo to his troops, was to keep the focus on the failures of Obamacare and avoid distractions that would come with actually pushing to enact laws—which, after all, could be signed by the president and presented as evidence that things were working.
So bills will pass the House, no doubt including more attempts to eviscerate Obamacare, but very few will pass with an eye toward reaching a compromise in a House-Senate conference and getting to one of those signing ceremonies. As for the big issues, especially immigration and tax reform, which are manifestly in the Republicans’ interest, there is an additional impediment: Action on those would divide the GOP caucus at a time when the leaders are trying to unite their members.