As the 115th Congress returns to work today, let's take a look at what the GOP has accomplished since they ran the table in the 2016 election. Aside from the posturing and blustering from the President, individual lawmakers, and the leadership of both houses, Congressional achievements can probably be divided into just two categories - staffing and legislation.
Although the Congressional workload with regard to staffing has been very light, much of the damage done by the Trump administration was - and will be - wrought by the leadership placed at the head of federal government agencies. Today the greatest threat to America's government may no longer be corruption - it may instead be the intentional dismantling of the very structures and processes that were established to protect and promote the interests of people like you and me.
Congress has confirmed, sometimes even with the acquiescence of Democratic legislators, members of the President's cabinet clearly chosen for their hostility toward the very function of government they were tasked to oversee. One example is Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, who is launching efforts to defend the rights of white job applicants against the scourge of affirmative action. Another is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is sympathetic toward the privatization of public lands and the further commercial exploitation of lands that might remain in the federal domain. HHS Secretary Tom Price had introduced legislation four times to allow Medicare providers to charge patients any amount above scheduled service fees and reimbursements without penalty. And who could forget Energy Secretary Rick Perry in his humiliating show of incompetence - intending to terminate the very agency he runs today! Similar patterns are found throughout the administration. DeVos, Carson, Chao, and Pruitt are all hostile to their own purviews - and that's exactly why they were chosen. And confirmed.
Judicial confirmations have been very few, despite the existence of 118 vacancies on federal benches at the end of the Obama administration. There's plenty of time, with some of the vacancies having being held open for years waiting for a GOP White House. So far, only five vacancies  have been filled in the current Congress, including three Circuit Court of Appeals slots and one District Court slot. However, the confirmation of just one Supreme Court nomination - Neil Gorsuch - will have a lasting impact on American justice in the 21stcentury. As a so-called Constitutional Originalist, he is dedicated to the conservative dogma of Scalia, Weaver, Buckley, Powell, and Kirk.  He stands firmly on ground won by corporatist interests, and will defend that ground at the expense of America's natural persons.
The 115th Congress may ultimately be defined by what it's failed to do rather than its accomplishments. Repealing Obamacare and cutting taxes are high on conservative priorities, and time will tell what will happen. Time will also tell just how harmful the accomplishments may turn out to be. So instead, let's look back.
Fifty-three bills have been signed into law . (I have compiled a sortable and searchable table in Excel, and would be delighted to send it to you via e-mail upon request.) Of the 53 bills, just two of them are both new and significant:
- S. 1094 passed the House 368-to-55, and changed the rules for firing at the Veterans Administration, making it easier to get rid of incompetence - but possibly opening the door a little wider for political and revenge firings.
- H.R. 3364 expanded economic sanctions against Iran, North Korea, and Russia, and requires the Administration to obtain Congressional approval before easing them. This was passed in the House 419-to-3 and the Senate 98-to-2 - but was signed into law very reluctantly.
What about the other bills? Fourteen of them reversed policies established by the Obama Administration. The rollbacks range from FCC protections of consumer data, to funding for entities that perform abortion services, to disclosure of labor law violations, and more. Six of them clearly reward corporatist interests - and we're challenged to identify the winners of four more. The list of losers is easier, and it includes women, labor, education, consumers, and the environment. A table of policy reversals follows.
Thirty-seven bills are either ceremonial, minor amendments, or funding resolutions to keep things running. Renaming VA facilities might be a good idea, but it accomplishes nothing except for padding the tally of legislation for anybody who wants to brag.
The damage done by reversing good policies and protections for real people is significant - but in the end it relates to executive orders and little more. And there's a limit to the authority of Congress to put such legislation on the Resolute desk.
The real and lasting damage is being done elsewhere by the Republican Party, installing leadership that's hostile to government by the people. With a GOP White House and Congress, together with a regressive Originalist Supreme Court, we can be assured that the United States of America will be run for the benefit of corporatist interests for the foreseeable future.
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