Opinion: Republican extremism has blocked compromise, crippled Congress

We now have history’s first draft of the story of this Congress. There is so much political fog right now that it is hard to get a clear view of the reason for the dysfunction on Capitol Hill.

But three new books take a step back to get a clear look at the fray, and all three conclude that no-holds-barred, right-wing politics is to be blamed. 

Two congressional scholars, Thomas Mann of Brookings and Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, authored the first book —“It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” They write that today’s Republican extremism has led Congress to be more dysfunctional than at any time after the Civil War.

The second book is journalist Robert Draper’s “Do Not Ask What Good We Do,” a tragic account of far right-wing House freshmen engaging in tantrums and bullying Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer top Treasury official to head private equity group GOP strategist Steve Schmidt denounces party, will vote for Democrats Zeal, this time from the center MORE (R-Ohio).

The third book is “The Passage of Power,” the latest volume by President Johnson’s biographer, Robert Caro. It covers LBJ’s transition from his time as Senate majority leader to the White House as the powerful Democrat negotiated with Republicans to pass critical defense, highway construction and civil rights laws.

In today’s Congress that kind of compromise is “near impossible,” Caro is telling interviewers, due to Senate Republicans’ use of the filibuster to block all legislation from President Obama and the Democrats. Caro calls the GOP action “unconscionable.”

And in sharp contrast to the GOP’s constant criticism of Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidAmendments fuel resentments within Senate GOP Donald Trump is delivering on his promises and voters are noticing Danny Tarkanian wins Nevada GOP congressional primary MORE (D-Nev.), Caro is of the opinion that LBJ’s successor as the leader of Senate Democrats is doing a “terrific job” of dealing with “near impossible circumstances.”

Caro’s overall historical assessment fits exactly with the other two books.

Mann and Ornstein paint sad pictures of a House Republican Conference that is “more loyal to party than to country” and intentionally crippling Congress “at a time when the country faces unusually serious problems and grave threats.”

Draper’s book focuses on a bloc of Tea Party members elected in 2010 who pushed the nation to the brink of default over raising the debt ceiling because they saw the spending cuts that accompanied that increase as insufficient.

He quotes freshman Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) as saying: “I didn’t come to Washington to be part of a team.” Labrador apparently considered supporting a Tea Party effort to unseat BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer top Treasury official to head private equity group GOP strategist Steve Schmidt denounces party, will vote for Democrats Zeal, this time from the center MORE last year. 

These books are hitting the news at a time when congressional Republicans are offering their preferred view of history. They point to the Democrats’ failure to pass a budget, both when Democrats had majorities in the House and Senate in 2008-2010 and now when they hold the Senate majority.

The GOP charge is technically true, but as the new books illustrate, it is more about creating fog than it is about the whole truth. First, there is no chance of a polarized House and Senate agreeing on a budget.

And as Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) points out, the Democrats supported and Congress passed the Budget Control Act last year instead of a budget resolution. 

This new law has the full legal effect of a budget because it sets strict spending limits for the next decade, far more than the one-year limits usually found in a budget resolution. It is estimated that these spending caps will result in almost $900 billion in cuts. 

The Budget Control Act also created the supercommittee to craft a reform proposal and a contingency plan if it failed to do so. It failed and the result will be another $1.2 trillion in spending cuts starting in January.  

This means that the Budget Control Act constitutes the biggest package of spending cuts in American history and is already written into the law.

In addition, the Bush tax rates are set to expire before the end of 2012. Put aside the fact that the controversial cuts primarily benefit wealthy Americans for one moment. There are parts of the package that will hurt middle-class families if they are not renewed — the easing of itemization and exemptions, the marriage penalty, and the child tax credit for starters. 

There is also the 2 percent Social Security payroll tax cut which will expire before the end of this Congress. There are also $20 billion in tax breaks for small businesses that are set to expire, along with some $100 billion in write-offs for business investments. 

That is only the tax side of the equation. On the spending side, Congress still has to pass 12 annual spending bills, extend the “Doc Fix” to keep doctors from having their Medicare payments slashed and raise the debt ceiling one more time.  

Do the new history books offer any hope to Congress and its dismal 13 percent approval rating?

Absent a sudden shift in politics, the books give no reason for hope. Their harsh judgments suggest future historians will confirm today’s view that GOP extremism early in the 21st Century led Congress to an all-time low.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.