Congress will be back in session this week, and the new Republican House majority is promising swift action to repeal health care reform. Many have also promised to vote against increasing the debt ceiling. Both these actions will get lots of attention in the weeks ahead. Both are substantively meaningless, and the Republicans know it. House Republicans might be able to repeal health care reform, but that repeal bill will most likely die in the Senate, and even if it passed the Senate, would be promptly vetoed. So the only purpose of the movement to repeal health care reform is to appease the new Republican representatives' constituents, and set up the issue for 2012, if they think it will have any traction at that time. As for voting against the debt ceiling, Republicans have made a sport out of this threat for decades (whenever they don't control the White House), but they always vote to increase the debt ceiling in the end. They have to, or they would cause financial chaos. Causing a big political showdown over the debt ceiling is just a way of avoiding facing the hard decisions about spending cuts and tax increases, which are what is what you would be talking about if you were actually serious about wanting to reduce the national debt. Which Congress is not, or else Congress would not last month have racked up the biggest bi-partisan majority of the year in favor of adding hundreds of billions more to the deficit in the form of tax breaks and unemployment benefits.
The last two years in Congress were years of great substantive accomplishment. The process was often ugly, but a lot got done. If the early talk is any indication, the next two years promise to be years of political grandstanding and theatre--all show and no substance. It will be surprising if this Congress creates any lasting legacies on the order of TARP, the stimulus, financial regulation, and health care reform. The funny thing is that the public, both the left and right, will probably like this Congress better than the last one. Liberals will not have to face their disappointment at the compromises necessary to pass reform legislation, and can direct their anger at the obstructionist opposition that will prevent pretty much anything from getting done. And conservatives will be happy that no big government programs will be launched, and will likewise be able to direct their anger at the Democrats (and some Republicans) who will prevent any radical Tea Party reforms from making any headway.
Maybe it's a good time to tone down the anger and outrage. To my Democratic friends, I would say, it's not necessary to make fun of John Boehner's name or impute dastardly plots to the House Republicans. They are just going to be doing what they believe they were elected to do. And maybe you can be a little more forgiving of the administration and Democratic Congressional leadership, because now the limits of their power should be more readily apparent to anyone. To my Republican friends, I would say, spare me your outrage at the Senate where many good House bills go to die. You've been killing Democratic House bills in the Senate for years. The best thing for everyone right now is probably to grab some popcorn, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.