Friday, November 28th, 2014

Did the House GOP keep its campaign promises?

John Boehner of Ohio, who went on to become Speaker of the House, holds up a copy of the GOP agenda, "A Pledge to America," in 2010.
John Boehner of Ohio, who went on to become Speaker of the House, holds up a copy of the GOP agenda, "A Pledge to America," in 2010.

The 112th Congress will not be noted in history for its long list of legislative accomplishments. From 2010 through 2012, lawmakers passed about 220 laws — the fewest ever.

But House Republicans can say this: they stuck to their ideological guns.

When they seized control of the House of Representatives in 2010, Republicans brought with them a 21-page set of proposals called the Pledge to America. In the end, every Pledge idea but one came to a vote on the House floor -- even those certain to die in the Senate, where Democrats are in control.

PolitiFact has been tracking the Republican promises for the past two years and rating them on our GOP Pledge-O-Meter. Today, we are issuing our final report card.

Of the 53 GOP promises PolitiFact tracked, we rated 20 Promise Kept, 17 Promise Broken and 16 Compromise.

Republicans failed on their promise to cancel unspent stimulus money, as funding from the spending program continued to roll on. But they kept their promise to put a hard cap on new discretionary spending. Their pledge to make the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for all incomes earned a Compromise after the fiscal cliff deal raised rates for those making more than $400,000 a year.

Donald Wolfensberger, senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars who previously worked as a Republican congressional committee staffer, gives the House GOP a high grade for effort.

"They kept their pledges. They voted on things they promised to bring to a vote," Wolfensberger said.

On the other hand, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution branded the lack of legislative productivity "an utter disaster."

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The Pledge to America offered ideas addressing health care, taxes, the economy and other policy areas. At PolitiFact, we rate outcomes, not intentions, so proposals that passed the House but never became law earned a Promise Broken rating.

On a few fronts, the House was successful in stopping the president’s agenda. They opposed "cap-and-trade" climate legislation and held firm on the detention of terrorism suspects, and a bill Democrats favored to ease rules for union votes never got a hearing in the House.

House leaders acted early on their pledges to bring new standards of transparency and decorum to their own work. A rule enacted in early 2011 required a citation from the Constitution providing justification for all proposed bills, earning a Promise Kept. They imposed a ban on lumping unrelated proposals into "must-pass" legislation, such as appropriations bills -- though we found they broke that pledge during the 2010 battle over the debt ceiling.

Cutting federal spending -- a treasured priority in the House -- was always on the radar. The YouCut program, in which citizens voted online for spending cut proposals, brought in ideas nearly every week, and a few of them became law. The House trimmed its own budget by 10 percent over two years, and the budgets passed by the House for 2012 and 2013 drastically reined in future spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Those budgets didn’t pass the Senate, which never offered budgets of its own. So their ideals didn’t translate to action.

In that area, Wolfensberger said, "the Senate really was more of a problem than the House."

He added: "It’s really pretty troublesome when Congress can’t do its basic business."

But for that, Mann -- who co-authored a book declaring the 112th Congress among the worst in history -- faults House members’ unwillingness to compromise.

Take the House’s 33 votes to repeal health care reform, all of which were DOA in the Senate.

"It was all symbolic," Mann said. "It was all advertising. It was not about legislating."

The House also passed doomed bills to limit the power of federal agencies to make new rules, give small business owners a new tax deduction and permanently prohibit federal funding of abortion.

Meanwhile, lawmakers achieved nothing on major agenda items -- immigration, energy or infrastructure, said Mann.

Instead, he said, the Republicans in the House held fast to "extreme objectives and little willingness to consider the fact that the American government is not run by the House of Representatives."