Seriously, Though, It’s a Pretty Bad Congress

Ezra Klein publishes a chart-heavy, viral-like-the-high-school-nurse’s-office post to argue that this, the 112th Congress, is the worst ever. John A. Farrell (buy his book!) disagrees.

[S]ome of Klein’s objections are framed by ideology. A Congress that doesn’t pass a ton of legislation may be the “worst” to a liberal, but downright heroic to conservatives. Few acts of Congress restore liberty to the citizenry.

I concur in part and dissent in part. Absolutely, conservatives don’t judge the effectiveness of any legislative body by how many bills it passes. “The government which governs best governs least,” and so forth. But Farrell too quickly dismisses what conservatives could have gotten in 2011 if they’d compromised – if they’d been, to coin a phrase, “not the worst Congress ever.” Refer back to Jonathan Chait, who pureed the wisdom from 10,000 pages or so from debt ceiling tick-tocks. In the mid-stage of the “grand bargain” negotiation, “Obama had offered to John Boehner to make a series of cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and the domestic budget, to reduce top-end tax rates, and to prevent the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, in return for increasing tax revenue (over current tax levels) by about $800 billion over ten years.”

Had House Republicans been willing to put up with a tiny amount of tax rates, they might have achieved sizable cuts to Social Security, or raised the Medicare eligibility age, or cut provider payments. They could have achieved the biggest spending cuts, and blows against the welfare state, since the 1982 Social Security deal, and they could have extended the Bush tax cuts permanently. They decided, instead, that this wouldn’t be worth a minimal amount of new taxes.

So how do you argue that this particular Congress’s inaction was good for conservatives?