The older you get, the more you think about the times when things were simple and pleasurable. That especially applies to my years in school, when my only cares were homework, lunch, recess and our next vacation. I fondly remember the milk and a graham cracker at 3 p.m., and field trips to the zoo or a museum.
I thought about those heady days while watching the latest session of the House of Representatives. The boys and girls of the House were just out on what they call recess.
Over the past 11 months they have worked so hard, and deserved a rest. They have funded the federal government until early January, and when they get back from their trips to Israel and the Ukraine, they will once again try to figure out how to further postpone any action on those challenges. Looking back on 2023, there are so many parallels between current Washington politics and my school days.
In elementary school, we used to bring home lots of things to show off to our proud parents. Sometimes it was a crayon drawing or a clay model. In middle school it was something we made in shop class. So what did the House bring home to the taxpayers? What bills did they pass? Was there any legislation that will improve your day-to-day quality of life? Did they come up with a plan to reduce the price of a dozen eggs? Did they call over to the Senate and say, “Let’s make a deal”?
As a child, I met quite a few schoolyard bullies. Luckily, I always ran faster than they did. Two weeks ago, Tennessee Congressman Tom Burchett complained that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy elbowed him in the kidney. McCarthy told the press that there are a lot of tight spaces in the House corridors, and that he didn’t elbow anybody.
As I got older, sometimes I’d run into some kid with a short fuse who was looking for a fight. Just before recess time in D.C., Sen. Markwayne Mullin asked Teamsters President Sean O’Brien if he wanted to mix it up at a committee hearing, and the chair, Bernie Sanders, had to defuse the situation.
In school, the biggest threat a teacher could make was that you’d be kept after class, or that classes wouldn’t end until certain projects were completed. In Washington, there is no scarier edict than one that members might have to work on Thanksgiving or some other holiday. After all, vacation plans have been finalized, or some educational trip to a far-off destination — sometimes a taxpayer-funded junket — would have to be canceled.
The Republican House is in danger of losing its majority in next year’s election unless it can start acting like a cohesive body on issues that matter. The 30-member Freedom Caucus kicked McCarthy out of the speakership, and will only support the new speaker, Mike Johnson, so long as they get some of their wish list. The problem is, that wish list could cost them their majority next November.
To show that McCarthy’s ouster was just a function of personal dislike, Johnson worked out a budget extension with Democratic votes. Recognizing that a government shutdown was imminent, the Freedom Caucus gave him a one-time pass. But going forward, the caucus could just as easily oust Johnson, so this small group of representatives can keep him on a short leash.
And there are some members whom Johnson can’t muzzle forever. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a consistent bomb thrower, led an effort to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, but the move was shut down. She will keep coming back, even though her party doesn’t want the process to go forward without a case strong enough for a vote to pass.
All my life, I’ve treated politics as an important cause that should be handled with the greatest dignity and respect for the Constitution. I have supported and practiced bipartisanship. The politics of Washington must not be demeaned by a bunch of boys and girls who act like they’re still in elementary school. We are entitled to what the Founding Fathers envisioned, and nothing less.
Jerry Kremer was an Assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? email@example.com.