78°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Republicans act like it’s 1999 again

WASHINGTON — It’s beginning to feel like the late ‘90s all over again.

Then, congressional Republicans howled themselves hoarse about Clinton administration scandals. But the indicators kept pointing to a booming economy, and support for President Bill Clinton climbed steeply through 1998 as House Republicans marched toward impeaching him.

Now, after a long economic winter, green shoots are everywhere: The stock market is booming, housing prices are rebounding and mortgage providers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, long demonized by Republicans, are returning profits to the Treasury. Job growth has accelerated and consumer confidence has reached its highest level in almost six years. Health care cost increases are slowing, Medicare’s prospects are improving — in part because of President Obama’s health care reforms — and gasoline prices are forecast to decline. Long-term fiscal problems remain, but the federal deficit is shrinking, putting off Washington’s debt-ceiling standoff until late fall.

Yet House Republicans have shelved a serious legislative agenda this year in favor of 24/7 investigations. On Tuesday morning alone, they held two hearings probing alleged wrongdoing in the Obama administration. At a House education committee hearing in the Rayburn building, several Republicans grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over her fundraising for a nonprofit that works to enroll people in new health-insurance programs. (Similar activities were undertaken by officials in the George W. Bush administration.)

Next door in the Longworth building, the Ways and Means Committee hosted tea party groups complaining that their rights had been violated by the administration. (Investigators have yet to find a link to the White House or to Obama’s political appointees.) Instead of working on tax reform, Ways and Means is one of three House committees holding hearings this week on the Internal Revenue Service abuses. This sounds like a lot — until you consider that five committees are reportedly investigating the administration’s handling of September’s attack on U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya.

A good indication of House Republicans’ mindset came last week, when Rep. John Boehner’s spokesman wrote on the House speaker’s official blog that a speech by Obama on student loans was an attempt “to change the subject from its growing list of scandals.” It’s telling that the GOP leadership would view a student loan event as a distraction from scandals but wouldn’t see the obsession with scandals as a distraction from pocketbook issues.

As The Washington Post’s Paul Kane reported Tuesday, House Republicans haven’t passed much ambitious legislation this year after they “disintegrated into squabbling factions, no longer able to agree on — much less execute — some of the most basic government functions.” One of the few things that unite them is the investigation of scandals. A few weeks ago, Heritage Action for America, an influential conservative group, suggested that House Republicans focus on investigations and avoid legislation that could divide them.

To be sure, there are real issues involved in the probes, particularly the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups and the Justice Department’s intimidation of journalists. And, with economic troubles remaining in much of the world, there’s no guarantee of a 1990s-style boom. But in terms of scandal, House Republicans so far have significantly less to work with than they did in 1998, when the president lied about sex acts with an intern.

Republicans, after fighting Obama’s economic policies for four years, may have no better option than to focus on scandal now that the economy is rebounding. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters Tuesday morning that Republicans would simultaneously be “emphasizing working families” while investigating the administration “in a deliberative, thoughtful manner, allowing the facts to speak for themselves.”

Reporters asked whether this thoughtfulness was consistent with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, calling the White House press secretary a “paid liar” and describing Obama as Nixonian. Cantor declined to disavow Issa’s statements.

The problem for Republicans is that they appear to be following not the facts but rather their own theories.

As my colleague Greg Sargent noted, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., may have revealed too much about GOP motives when he said “the trouble here isn’t even the individual specific scandals” but “this pattern of deception administration-wide.”

Will Americans find compelling this hunt for a pattern among accusations that even the accusers regard as unimportant? Or will they be “distracted” by the passel of indicators showing accelerating economic growth and improved government finances?

For those who remember the 1990s, the answer is obvious.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Nevada police agencies to receive grant monies

At least $1.4 million in a Community Policing Development (CPD) program will make its way to Nevada to help support law enforcement officers.

VICTOR JOECKS: How Joe Biden stole Christmas

Christmas classics would be a lot different if they had been written during President Joe Biden’s administration.

Motorcycle crash prompts Mercy Air response

A structure fire on the 4400 block of East Paiute Boulevard prompted the response of Pahrump Valley Fire and Rescue Services crews.

Mizpah rates high in list of haunted stops

Under an agreement between conservationists and a federal agency, a finding must be issued by the end of the month.

 
Sisolak prepares for ‘heated year’ ahead of 2022 election

Gov. Steve Sisolak, in an interview at the governor’s mansion in Carson City, said he prays daily for guidance in handling the COVID pandemic.

Beatty VFW Memory Garden Dedicated

The Beatty VFW Memory Garden is now open and was dedicated Oct. 9 during the VFW post’s Fall Festival, which featured food, art and craft booths, and a silent auction.

Airport signs to soon show ‘Harry Reid’ as new name

Work could commence soon on updating signage at McCarran International Airport to reflect the name change to Harry Reid International Airport.

Ground turkey products recalled

Butterball, LLC, a Mount Olive, N.C. establishment, is recalling approximately 14,107 pounds of ground turkey products that may be contaminated with extraneous materials, specifically blue plastic, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Nevada Highway Patrol receives $100k public safety grant

By putting in additional efforts to combat drunk and distracted drivers along Silver State roadways, the Nevada Department of Public Safety, Highway Patrol Division has received a grant in the amount of $100,000 from the Nevada Department of Public Safety, Office of Traffic Safety for targeted DUI enforcement campaigns during the coming year.