Inside the liberal echo chamber that is National Public Radio, the stale show known as “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” addressed Congress on Wednesday with New York Times congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman. Host Terry Gross announced “this Congress has been one of the least productive in history. They have accomplished so little that the president is looking into how he can bypass Congress and use executive actions to make changes in areas like job creation, immigration and the economy.”
Gross put all the blame for Congress on the “radical” Obama-resisting conservatives: “What do you think have been the most dramatic examples of partisanship or obstructionism or radicalism during this 113th Congress so far?” Weisman said tax hikes made Congress "productive" at first, but conservatives ruined it:
WEISMAN: The 113th Congress actually started in a rancorous but ultimately productive way. Remember it started with a deal on the fiscal cliff that did raise taxes on the rich. Actually it raised taxes on everybody a little bit because it allowed - the deal allowed a temporary cut to the payroll tax to expire. So virtually everybody who works saw a little bit of a tax increase, but those who earn more than $400,000 saw a fairly hefty tax increase.
But it led to a revolt against Boehner: “these very conservative Republicans coalescing, to try to stop his re-election.” Weisman said "It was startling because it was right out in the open. You saw Tim Huelskamp, who is a representative from Kansas, with an iPad on the House floor checking off votes of people that he thought were going to vote against John Boehner. And it could very well have brought the speakership down."
Terry Gross suggested Boehner has been cowardly and weak, and is no "Hammer" like Tom DeLay used to be with House Republicans. The "very conservative" labels were flying:
GROSS: So you're saying that Republicans aren't afraid of Boehner because he didn't punish anybody when there was nearly a revolution to overthrow him. What's Boehner afraid of?
WEISMAN: John Boehner is afraid that a small minority of the Republican Party can toss him out and it would be a humiliating moment. He doesn't have control over the conference the way past leaders have had. Now in the past when Tom DeLay, we all remember The Hammer, when Tom DeLay was in charge [he means when Dennis Hastert was Speaker], he could use enticements in the form of earmarks, these special provisions for people's districts, to lure Republicans to his position, and he could use threats, which he did.
But this speaker doesn't really use threats, and he also doesn't have a Hammer behind him. He doesn't have a Tom DeLay in the leadership who is also willing to back him up and threaten and cajole members of the House to stand with their speaker.
GROSS: Is that because he's a nice guy or just doesn't know how to lead?
WEISMAN: I think in some ways it's both. He is a nice guy. He doesn't hold anger well. He'll get momentarily angry, then he'll pat somebody on the back. But it's also because of the kind of Republicans that are being elected now. These Republicans from a lot of these very conservative districts are being elected on a platform of radically smaller government, and they are not going in saying we want to bring home the bacon to this district, we want to fix, you know, the Reading sewer system or the Hoboken, you know, ferry terminal.
They're going in saying "I'm not going to bring home the bacon for you, I'm going to radically shrink the government." And they're stoking the voters in very gerrymandered or conservative districts. Remember the House used to have a big chunk of districts that could swing Republican, could swing Democrat depending on which way the political currents are. That's just not the case any more.
With the redistricting of 2010 and the concentration of Democratic voters in urban areas, Republicans typically represent areas that are extremely conservative and that, for political purposes, the biggest threat to House members are on their right flank, not on their left flank.
Gross added one more label: "So what are some of the splits you're seeing in Congress now between people who have been there for a while and newcomers who have been elected on very conservative platforms who don't, as you put it, don't want to bring home the bacon. They got elected on a platform to just cut funding." Weisman discussed how "comprehensive immigration reform" has stalled in the House.
Late in the segment, when the Obama scandals bubbled up, Gross couldn't ask a question about Obama or his team doing anything scandalous. She stuck to questioning the impact on Republicans: "it looked like, oh, could these erupt into big scandals? They kind of didn't, and I'm wondering, like, if you stand back and look at those two investigations, what you think the impact was on the Republicans who led the investigations?"