Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power

Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power
© Greg Nash

The first year of unified Republican control of the government is winding to a disappointing end. 

Key GOP campaign promises — ObamaCare repeal, tax reform, and a border wall, among them — remain undone. Congress hasn’t passed a budget, nor have they stopped legislating by crisis. Over 200 of President Trump’s nominees, the people responsible for implementing the president’s agenda across the government, are still waiting for confirmation in the Senate.

So, what’s the deal? Democratic obstruction? The 60-vote rule?

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None of the above.

 

The real reason that Congress can’t get anything done is because the McConnell Senate only works 2.5 days per week.

In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, instant communication through text and social media, technological innovations ranging from driverless cars to DNA modification, the Senate — one third of the most powerful government in the world — is a living anachronism. 

Consider the Senate’s workweek. On most Mondays, members fly in from their home states. They have to return to Washington D.C. by 5:30 p.m., in time to do some hard work: Casting one or two votes on noncontroversial matters, each lasting 15 minutes. Then they’re done for the day.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Senate joins the rest of America and shows up for a full workday. But then? It’s TGI Thursday. Between March and October, the Senate finished work for the week each Thursday by 2:30 p.m., on average, but sometimes as early as 12 p.m.

It gets worse. 

Since March, the McConnell Senate has only worked on two Fridays.

In twenty-eight weeks, the Senate has only worked on 20 Mondays, and has not worked a single Monday beyond a quick vote or two in the evening.

The situation becomes all the more embarrassing when compared to the work ethic of previous Senates over the same time period. 

In the Republican-controlled Senate of 2001, members came in on Monday and worked until Thursday at 5:30 p.m., on average, before heading home. 

Under the Democrats, life was a little busier. Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power Obama's HHS secretary could testify in Menendez trial MORE kept the 2009 Senate late most Thursday evenings, sometimes until 10:30 or 11:00, before gaveling out for the week. (He also kept the Senate in on several weekends toward the end of the year.)

There’s a reason that President Obama and the Democratic Senate were able to accomplish so much. The Reid Senate of 2009-10 spent nearly 2,500 hours in session, according to data compiled by the Brookings Institute. Compare that to the McConnell Senate of 2015-16, which only worked 1,855 hours. 

If the Senate refuses to work beyond two or three days a week, there is little hope they will accomplish anything beyond congratulating sports teams and naming some commemorative months.

This puts Republican complaints of Democratic obstruction in a new light. Democrats cannot be blamed for blocking the Republican agenda,when the Senate is barely in session long enough for them to mount a meaningful challenge.

Then there is the issue of the filibuster.

While it’s true that sixty votes are still required in the Senate to break a filibuster on legislation, nominations can no longer be filibustered in the modern Senate – not Supreme Court justices, circuit court judges, Cabinet nominees, assistant secretaries, deputy assistants to the secretaries, undersecretaries, or anyone else.

Yet over 200 of Trump’s nominees are awaiting confirmation in the Senate, suffering long waiting processes that encourage partisan attacks, having their religious beliefs subject to ridicule, and having to sit idly by while Obama nominees obstruct the implementation of the president’s agenda across the government. 

Nearly a year into President Trump’s term, he’s received less than half the number of confirmations that either President Obama or Bush had at a similar time.

The blame for this does not lie at the feet of the Democrats, who have no viable or lasting means of challenging these nominations.

The failure to act on these nominations rests solely with the Senate, and McConnell’s apparent indifference to passing legislation, implementing Republican priorities, confirming the president’s nominees, or doing anything at all.

Whether it’s obliviousness or incompetence or both, the Senate is losing what may be a limited opportunity for the GOP to make meaningful change. With the 2018 midterms approaching, the balance of power in the Senate is up for grabs. Should Democrats regain control, the 115th Congress will go down as one of the most wasted opportunities in a generation.

Elections, good intentions, stump speeches and campaign promises don’t mean anything unless they’re backed by a willingness to do the work. If 90 percent of success is just showing up, a two-day work week is the Senate barely getting out of bed.

Rachel Bovard (@RachelBovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint aimed at promoting limited government.