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POLITICS

Congress does little of consequence, except argue

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Politics,Congress,Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Call it a steady diet of gridlock, with "Green Eggs and Ham" on the side.

Congress did not pass White House-backed immigration or gun control legislation in 2013. Or raise the minimum wage. Or approve many other items on President Obama's agenda.

But tea party-inspired House Republicans did propel the country into a 16-day partial government shutdown that cost the still-recovering economy $24 billion, by one estimate.

Congress didn't repeal the health law known as "Obamacare." Or endorse construction of the proposed Keystone pipeline. Or make it harder for the White House to put costly new federal regulations in place, or accomplish dozens of other measures on the House Republican to-do list.

But Senate Democrats did unilaterally — arrogantly, Republicans said — change century-old procedures to weaken the GOP's ability to block confirmation of Obama's appointees.

That, too, was part of a tempestuous year in which lawmakers lurched from showdown to shutdown, with time enough for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to read from the Dr. Seuss classic, "Green Eggs and Ham," as he held the floor around the clock for a day to protest the health law.

"The American people would get better government out of Monkey Island at the local zoo than we're giving them today," said Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan as the government slid into shutdown mode.

"This isn't some damn game," House Speaker John Boehner erupted in frustration at the point of maximum gridlock.

Except that ... baseball had a better year under the Capitol Dome than Republicans, Democrats or Obama.

One bill that made it around the bases to the president's desk specified the size of blanks to be used in stamping National Baseball Hall of Fame memorial coins. And a new bridge over the Mississippi River was named for Stan Musial, a baseball legend admired by Republicans and Democrats alike.

But enough about teamwork.

Fifth-term Sen. John McCain of Arizona referred to some of his uncompromising, younger fellow Republicans as "wacko birds."

One whom he had in mind, Cruz, said, "I don't trust the Republicans. I don't trust the Democrats, and I think a whole lot of Americans likewise don't trust the Republicans or the Democrats because it is leadership in both parties that has got us into this mess."

At year end, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., opined, "Congress is finishing this year less popular than a cockroach."

Among Republicans, Reid's standing might not be even that good.

Reid, as soft-spoken as he is tough-willed, is "going to be remembered as the worst leader of the Senate ever" if he insisted on changing the filibuster procedures, predicted the famously taciturn GOP leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Reid went ahead anyway a few months later, to the anger of Republicans who predicted that Democrats would one day regret their action.

Cockroaches or not, Congress' ratings began the year at basement level, then began boring into bedrock below.

In January, an Associated Press-GfK poll put approval at 17 percent of the country.

By November, after the partial shutdown, a flirtation with an unprecedented U.S. Treasury default, gridlock for months on end and insults aplenty, it stood at 13 percent.

"Enough is enough," judged Barry Black, the Senate chaplain, nine days into the shutdown.

Evidently not.

It went on another week.

The health care law named for Obama was a constant theme, and a clear and present danger, to hear Republicans say it.

"We should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws that we repeal," Boehner said as Republicans voted for the 38th and 39th time since 2011 to repeal or otherwise neuter it.

There were yet more to come — the total reached into the 40s — leading into the first partial government shutdown in 17 years. It was an event so detrimental to the Republicans' political health that Boehner blamed it on outside tea party groups he said were guilty of "pushing our members into places where they don't want to be."

There were moments of cooperation, between Republicans and Democrats at least, but they were fleeting exceptions to the rule of gridlock.

One, at year's end, undid a portion of widely disliked across-the-board spending cuts that had been put in place because of a 2011 episode of brinkmanship.

Another, passed just before the beginning of the school year, linked student loan interest rates to the financial markets, an approach the White House and Republicans favored as a way to save the government money. Some liberal Democrats opposed it as a burden on future students.

The bill prevented a spike in loan rates as schools opened for the year, but rates are predicted to rise as the economy improves and the cost of borrowing goes up.

Midway through the 113th Congress, many of the 57 laws that have been enacted were less than national in scope.

One changed the boundary of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland in South Dakota to reflect the transfer of land into the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

Another conveyed land to the Powell Recreation District in Wyoming for use as a shooting range maintained by the Powell Gun Club.

And the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center in Nashua, N.H., was named after an employee, Patricia Clark, who has worked there since it opened 50 years ago.

If the accomplishments were relatively minor, the struggles were of more consequence.

On the day the new Congress convened, Jan. 3, Boehner was elected to a new term as speaker, his second. But only after surviving a challenge from his most conservative GOP members, 14 of whom declined to vote for him.

It was a harbinger.

Sweeping immigration legislation backed by the White House cleared the Senate on a bipartisan vote on the cusp of a long August break. Supporters hoped that would build support in the House.

The tea party had other ideas, dominating the summer political season with a campaign to deny necessary federal funding for the government as long as Obama's health law remained in effect.

By the time lawmakers reconvened in September, the Senate-passed immigration legislation was moribund, the campaign to cut off money for the health law ascendant, and the partial government shutdown only a matter of time.

Not long afterward, as polls sagged, Dr. Seuss' immortal words may as well have applied to the popularity of lawmakers instead of the dreaded green eggs and ham.

" I do not like them here or there," Cruz read. " I do not like them ANYWHERE!"

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