Feature

Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives by Robert Draper

The author interviewed 50 House members while creating this "refreshingly balanced” portrait of the 112th Congress.

(Free Press, $28)

“Time and again last year, House Republican leaders faced a nearly intractable opponent,” said Paul Kane in The Washington Post. Their unlikely foe: the 87 freshmen who swept in on a wave of pro–Tea Party sentiment to give the GOP a majority. GQ reporter Robert Draper interviewed 50 House members, some of the freshmen more than a dozen times, while creating this surprising inside portrait of the 112th Congress. House Speaker John Boehner has been able to convince most other observers that the newcomers haven’t given him much trouble. But Draper provides more than equal time to such rookie rebels as Idaho’s Raúl Labrador and Florida’s Allen West, and it becomes clear that the 2010 class was “rebelling from the outset.”

Draper should have called his book “Worst Congress Ever,” said David Weigel in Slate.com. Even scarier than the GOP freshmen’s belligerence is the revelation that some simply didn’t grasp budgeting. Despite party leaders’ efforts to provide them with tutoring sessions, most of the newbies just dug in their heels. Yet in Draper’s telling, the Democratic caucus was just as dysfunctional. For comic relief, we get the pre-scandal New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who yearns to be a party leader but “comes off as a buffoon with zero strategic skill.” Jumpy after big losses, Democrats couldn’t seem to agree on anything.

Draper’s entire account is “refreshingly balanced,” said Jonathan Karl in The Wall Street Journal. Conventional wisdom has it that the Republican freshmen killed last summer’s Boehner-Obama grand bargain by refusing to agree to any tax increases Boehner might have allowed. But Draper shows that House Democrats were just as ready to fight President Obama on any cuts to Medicare and Social Security. A deal apparently was never possible. But that doesn’t mean the 87 freshmen need to change their ways. They’ve already changed the debate in Washington. As they campaign for re-election, “few of them feel any need to moderate their views.”

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