GOP's broken promises: Gridlock & dysfunction still rule the day despite congressional control

Unified Republican control of Congress was supposed to break the chambers' gridlock. That...hasn't worked out

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published August 3, 2015 12:47PM (EDT)

John Boehner, Mitch McConnell                                                            (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
John Boehner, Mitch McConnell (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

The first fully GOP-controlled Congress in nearly a decade is almost on their five-week recess and off to the town halls of their local districts to face their constituents, the American people, who recently gave Congress a measly approval rating that often can't even hit double digits.

When Republicans campaigned last fall to wrestle control of the Senate from the Democrats, they promised a grand makeover, attempting to shed their image of obstructionists lying in opposition. After the elections, their 54 seats in the Senate and overwhelming majority in the House would be enough, the argument went, to bring productivity back to Washington. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed the morning after their election night victory, newly minted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner vowed to "honor the voters" by "focusing, first, on jobs and the economy."

"The first thing we need to do is demonstrate we heard what the voters were saying on Nov. 4. To me, they said we want you to function and we want you to solve problems," Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn, the number two Republican leader in the Senate, told CNN in January. Days later, Boehner faced a revolt in his chamber, with 25 conservative Republicans voting against his re-election.

Republicans promised to get off to a fast start but after an ill-fated GOP strategy to fight President Obama's executive orders on immigration threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security in February just as the terror group ISIS made headlines for a gruesome mass beheading, any hopes for a functioning legislative body were quashed. Boehner had, after all, promised to fight "tooth and nail" the executive action allowing roughly 5 million undocumented workers to remain in the U.S.

DHS was ultimately funded.

In March, Senate Republicans hijacked a bipartisan bill against human trafficking to impose new limits on abortion because -- jobs?

"The terrible, horrible, no good start for GOP," headlines read as Republicans reached their first 100 days in office, seeing only two bills become law -- a terrorism insurance measure and a veterans suicide prevention bill, both of which were left over from the year before.

Now as they head off to summer recess, Salon takes a look at just some of the broken promises Republicans will have to explain to their base supporters, supporters who have spent a summer being fed right-wing red meat by the likes of presidential candidates Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz and the rest of the circus:

Keystone XL pipeline

"If we have a new majority next year, and a new majority leader, the Keystone pipeline will be voted on on the floor of the Senate, something the current majority has been avoiding for literally year." - Sen. Mitch McConnell

The Keystone pipeline, which would carry oil from the tar sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, did win congressional approval. But President Obama eventually vetoed a bill that would have approved construction of the controversial oil pipeline, the first major veto of his administration. For their part, Republicans in the Senate, failed to encourage enough Democrats to go against the White House and override the veto in March.

Pass a budget

Both McConnell and Boehner vowed there would be no more shutdowns or fiscal cliffs, and yet a shutdown this fall is far from inconceivable. After about 10 weeks in office, the House passed an ultra-conservative budget and finally in May, the Senate passed their own budget after a marathon session of debate -- the first in four years. However, in their budgets, Republicans in both chambers proposed relieving sequestration level spending cuts for the military, but President Obama has vowed to veto any budget that doesn't also increase domestic spending which has been frozen at 2011 levels.

Redefine ‘full time’ as working 40 hours a week

House Republicans were able to pass the same bill they passed in 2014 reclassifying the work week under a new Obamacare definition to 40 hours from 30 hours. A feeble attempt to bolster their specious claims that Obamacare had forced employers to cut workers' hours in an effort to avoid funding their health insurance.

After a Congressional Budget Office analysis found that changing the work week definition to 40 hours would increase the federal deficit by $53 billion over a decade, largely because fewer employers would pay penalties under the employer mandate of Obamacare, Senate Democrats unsurprisingly failed to provide the veto-proof 60 vote majority.

Don't worry, in early February House Republicans tried for the 56th time to outright repeal the law (unsuccessfully, of course).

Repeal the medical device tax

Another fierce battle has been fought to repeal the medical device tax under Obamacare.  The tax helps pay for the Affordable Care Act, and repealing it would increase the federal deficit by $24.4 billion over 10 years, according to the Office of Management and Budget. The House, with its largest Republican majority in eight decades, voted to repeal the tax by a 280-140 vote that included 46 Democrats. But repeal faltered in the GOP Senate.

On the list of promised but yet to even be tackled legislatively: tax reform, entitlement reform, an Obamacare replacement and the latest demand of a thirsty base -- the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

And as for their bipartisan victories -- well, that anti-human trafficking bill eventually became law, and fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership made its way to Obama's desk.

But these aren't quite the "victories" Republicans once hoped to hang their hats on as they return to their districts this recess. And with nationwide gay marriage and continued Obamacare subsidies courtesy of a conservative Supreme Court, this summer has been one of high-profile disappointments for the right.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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