Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans celebrated a historic return to power this week by quickly turning the proceedings into a circus. The 112th Congress started out the week innocently enough by having the Constitution read aloud by members of both parties. Reading the Constitution is a great idea, but you would think that Republicans could do it in the privacy of their own homes or offices and save the theatrics for more important activities.
Next up for Republicans: repealing health care reform. Unfortunately, they got unwelcome news - a Congressional Budget Office estimate that this would increase the deficit by $230 billion by 2012. The CBO's nonpartisan report backed the Democrats' claims that overturning the health care law would cause a major hit to the deficit.
Republicans quickly dismissed the CBO projection as unrealistic. “CBO is entitled to their opinion,” Boehner said. “I do not believe that repealing the job-killing health care law will increase the deficit.”
What is lost in the discussion is the fact that overturning the law signed by President Obama in March would also leave 32 million more Americans without health insurance, according to experts. A good example of cost-cutting is the recent news that a second person has died in Arizona resulting form the state's refusal to pay for certain transplants. In what has become known as Arizona's "Death Panels", Arizona reduced Medicaid coverage for transplants on October 1st last year under cuts included to help close a shortfall in the state budget. Dr. Rainer Gruessner, chair of the University of Arizona Surgery Department, predicts that nearly 30 Arizonans will die this year because of the state's decision to cut these transplants.
The Republicans want to repeal health reform, but don't have any alternative ideas on how to deal with the failing health care system in this country. The whole thing is just political theater anyway, because the repeal will never reach President Obama's desk for a veto. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is still there thanks to the lunacy of the Tea Party, has indicated that he won't even bring it to a vote. But the House has scheduled a repeal of health care reform on January 12th. But the Republicans must put on a show for their constituents.
In other news, the Republicans went from ridiculous to just plain absurd. On Thursday, two House Republicans somehow neglected to get sworn in as new members of Congress. Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania were not in the House chamber, but rather in front of a television in the Capitol Visitors Center during the swearing-in ceremony.
Sessions and Fitzpatrick were on the House floor on Thursday, voting and reading the Constitution, just like every other sworn-in member of Congress. But once Republican leaders learned that two of their members weren't legitimate members of Congress, they abruptly stopped the hearing on the health care law that was in session.
Shortly after the Rules Committee hearing was stopped, Fitzpatrick and Sessions both appeared back on the House floor and were administered the oath of office by Speaker Boehner, who mispronounced Fitzpatrick's name. But the House decided Friday to invalidate the initial votes cast in the new Congress by the two Republican Congressmen.
The week started out innocently enough. There was the freshman fundraiser hosted by Republican Congressman-elect Jeff Denham, featuring country music by LeAnn Rimes and a rare invitation to the press to attend and report on the event at the high-end W Hotel. The event clashed with the image Republicans have worked so hard to construct: citizen-legislators cleaning up the waste and extravagant ways of Washington.
By week's end, Republican aides are still crunching the numbers, but they can't get them to fit. It is now clear that they will fall far short of the $100 billion in saving the GOP promised in their election season pledge. So far they have pledged to slash $35 million from the House's operating budget. That's about 0.05% of the deficit.
The first-week Republican blunders did little to dampen Boehner's spirit. His themes of humility and austerity are intact. But the GOP is learning that its mistakes will be magnified as the new majority comes under scrutiny.
Now, as they make their clown act public, the Republican party is learning an important Hollywood lesson: comedy is hard, politics is harder.