House Republicans’ election pitch about ObamaCare — and little else

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Nearly midway through the 113th Congress, House Republicans don't have much to show for their majority.

Party leaders this week signaled they will punt on two of the major items that began the year at the top of its agenda: immigration and tax reform.

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And while the GOP has focused all year on highlighting problems with President Obama’s healthcare law, a vote on a replacement for ObamaCare is nowhere in sight.

Led by a Speaker with limited political clout, the House GOP has struggled all year to pass even routine bills to keep the government open and fund agencies at the low spending levels established in their budget.

Right now, it appears their campaign argument in 2014 will center on their opposition to the healthcare law and their role in cutting the deficit, and not on anything they have done legislatively.

“I don’t know if they ever intend to do anything,” lamented an exasperated Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, at her weekly press conference. “Again, the legislative branch, the first article of the Constitution, the first branch of government, the legislative branch, and we are not legislating. We are not legislating.”

A day earlier, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered a similar complaint.

“I mean, this House of Representatives might just as well not exist,” Reid said in an interview with the website Fusion. “They don't do anything.”

Asked on Thursday what the GOP majority had to show for 2013, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered a lengthy answer but did not mention any items that had actually made it to Obama’s desk. 

“There’s a lot that can be done,” he said. “Listen, we have a very divided country, and we have a very divided government, and I’m not going to sit here and underestimate the difficulty in finding the common ground. Because there’s not as much common ground here as there used to be. But our job is to find that common ground, and I intend to do it.”

Boehner’s comments reflect the fact that with just three legislative weeks remaining in 2013, House Republican leaders appear content with focusing largely on the disastrous ObamaCare rollout.

An agreement on a farm bill remains possible, while chances for a deal in a House-Senate budget conference committee are seen as slim by its Dec. 13 deadline.

Republicans often point to the dozens of small-bore bills they have passed that have languished in the Democratic-led Senate. Few of them, however, have significant bipartisan support and most have met with veto threats from the White House.

It all suggests the party will have slim picking to point to in terms of its legislative accomplishments by November next year.

In July, Boehner pointed to the GOP’s limited government philosophy and said the Congress should be judged by how many laws it repeals, not passes. But with most of Obama’s first-term achievements still on the books, Republicans have fallen short even under that standard.

Rank-and-file Republicans pointed to their advocacy on specific issues, as well as items they had successfully added to legislation like the water projects bill that recently passed the House.

“Sometimes passing laws, I think, is a metric that is not the best metric on getting something done,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said. He highlights his work on manufacturing and in promoting the growth of the oil and gas industry back home.

Reed also cited the significant reduction in the deficit that has coincided with the three years of the Republican House majority – a development that Obama often takes credit for in speeches.

“I point to the reduction in the debt as a success,” he said. “People are going to argue who gets credit for it. Well, that’s irrelevant.”

“Regardless of how you feel about it, the president didn’t do it alone,” Reed added. “That’s the reality of the last three years.”

Freshman Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) said Republicans deserve credit for the declining public support for ObamaCare.

“Today, right here, right now shows that Republicans have clearly illustrated the massive problems with ObamaCare,” he said Friday, shortly before 39 Democrats joined Republicans in voting for legislation to allow people to keep their cancelled health insurance plans. “I’m really happy to see House and Senate Democrats coming around to say, you were right. ObamaCare is screwed up. So I’m glad that we’ve been able to push the needle on that, bring attention to that.”

Yet even with that bipartisan House vote, the bill is unlikely to make it into law. Obama has threatened a veto and Senate Democrats have no plans to vote on the measure.

“I wish I could go back home and return health insurance plans to the thousands of people affected in my district,” Radel said. “Right now I can’t do that.”