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The 113th Congress: Same old, same old?

The 113th Congress was sworn in last week, and the manner in which it began isn’t encouraging.

We said “goodbye to the 112th Congress” last week, said Adam Garnett in MSNBC.com, and many Americans will add good riddance. The last Congress was “the least productive in history—by far,” with just 219 bills passed, compared with an average of 420 over the past five sessions. It was also the least popular Congress ever; its approval rating of 10 percent ranked lower in polls than communism. As the 113th Congress gets to work after being sworn in last week, the question is: “Will the new Congress be any better?” The manner in which it began isn’t encouraging, said the San Francisco Chronicle in an editorial. John Boehner was elected speaker only after an uprising by hard-core conservatives failed to oust him, proving that we have not just a divided government but a divided Republican Party. Far Right members want no part of compromise—and Boehner is “unable to lead them.” 

“I’m slightly more optimistic,” said Jonathan Bernstein in WashingtonPost.com. The GOP’s “rejectionist caucus” is smaller and less vocal than it was, with Tea Party bomb-throwers such as Allen West and Joe Walsh having lost their seats. And the experience of the 112th Congress may have taught mainstream Republicans that losing symbolic votes or watching their bills die in the Senate is “pretty much a waste of time.” If the party wants any real influence, it must find some areas of compromise with Democrats and President Obama. And when it comes to taming the GOP rebels, “don’t count Boehner out,” said Robert Costa in NationalReview.com. He’s “a tough political operator” with decades of experience battling for votes. His “startlingly fractured conference” may yet cause trouble-—but Boehner will do his best to herd them into line.

He may need an electric cattle prod, said Dana Milbank in WashingtonPost.com. Calculated gerrymandering after the 2010 census has placed  most House Republicans within overwhelmingly conservative districts. Their only political threat “comes not from Democrats but from conservative primary challengers.” That gives them no incentive to compromise. In fact, if they ignore public opinion and political pressure by, say, voting to force the country to default on its debts, they’ll become heroes back in their home districts. So if you liked the last Congress, hold on to your seats: This one might be even more dysfunctional. 

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