Do Not Ask What Good We Do
Inside the U.S. House of Representatives,
(Click for Amazon book review)
BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org:
This book's purpose is to explain why the House of Representatives has an approval rating of only 9%. But it actually demonstrates why the political press has such a low approval rating, because it focuses so much on the "Inside Baseball" of the House. The theme of this book, as far as we can tell, is that the public's disapproval of the House is well-justified, and the disapproval of the political press is even more justified.
The author states the purpose in the Prologue:
The author forces the reader to struggle through every painstaking detail of how the Debt Ceiling crisis came about; how the chairmanships of the House committees affected that crisis; the voting process (not just the votes) about that crisis; and even details of the House Gallery protest (a group of dedicated citizens sang a protest song during the House speeches, pp. 148-150). You as a reader are forced to learn more about the House whips than you ever wanted to know (a "whip" is tasked with enforcing party-line votes; you don't really need to know any more than that). You'll learn such important acronyms as RSC and "Lessons from the CR" (no, they're not really important, except for political press inside baseball players).
"This was a House of clearly spelled-out principles. The Republican-controlled House passed hundreds of bills, threw the Obama White House squarely on the ropes, and dominated a jillion news cycles. In Beltway parlance, the House controlled the narrative. For all these exertions, the 112th Congress was awarded by its fellow Americans an approval rating of 9%, a depth of loathing for that institution never before seen in the history of public opinion polling--a contempt eclipsing that for car salesmen, the news media, and the president. This public disgust, principally aimed at the majority party but in no way acquitting the Democrats, plainly bespoke a yearning for the lost art of governance. The outcry is in fact simple and plaintive: a plea for one America again."
The only saving grace of this book is that it provides a rough outline of some of Paul Ryan's issue stances (and other important House leaders, but Ryan is the one that matters now). We say "rough outline" because there are only hints of Ryan's policies -- just brief asides amid the political machinations that dominate the actual text of the book. But readers can get a feel for how Ryan will function as the Republican nominee and, if elected, as Vice President.
First, Ryan is young -- only 42 years old. Second, Ryan is a House leader -- his budgets and the votes about them dominate this book. Third, Ryan loves writing those budgets -- he's a "budgeteer"; no, strike that, he is "The Budgeteer" -- who "leers at actuarial tables like soft porn" (p. 137). Budgets are important in these days of Debt Ceilings and trillion-dollar deficits, and so Ryan is important as the party's leading Budgeteer. His budget does contain real policy choices -- we excerpt some here -- but this book focuses on the political gamesmanship so much that we'll also excerpt the Ryan budget plan directly, so readers can see the policy instead of the politics.
That focus on political gamesmanship is, of course, the reason the public despises both Congress and the political press. So will Ryan bring partisanship to the Romney-Ryan ticket? No, not so much. Ryan is certainly a Tea Party favorite -- Romney needed that on the ticket -- but that's because the Tea Party members prefer the Ryan budget plan to the Obama plan. Ryan is not as hard-core partisan as many House members in the Tea Party election waves -- he is conservative, to be sure, but willing to make compromises when necessary, at least on social issues (see pp. 136-137 for several examples). Ryan is much more of a wonk than a partisan -- a guy who knows all the policy details (like Jimmy Carter) and not a guy who uses policy as a means to achieve partisan ends (like Newt Gingrich).
Ryan's nomination as V.P. will mostly focus the Obama-Romney race on the Ryan budget, which Romney has tacitly adopted as his own by nominating Ryan. The Obama-Romney race, in other words, will focus on whether one prefers the Obama budget vision (stimulus and more progressive taxation with a goal of slow steady growth) or the Ryan budget vision (tax cuts as stimulus for job creators with a goal of cutting the growth of government). Romney's choice of Ryan de-emphasizes the ObamaCare-RomneyCare debate (probably to Romney's benefit); focuses on domestic issues rather than foreign policy (certainly to Romney's benefit judging by his numerous gaffes on his summer 2012 foreign trip); and puts forward a personable, charismatic face to the campaign (which potentially overcomes Romney's greatest weakness as a detached 1%er).
This book was triumphantly received by the mainstream media as the most important political book of the year and perhaps destined to be seen as the most important political book of the decade. That reception is only valid if one likes "Inside Baseball" -- the intimate descriptions of strategy and process and personality conflicts and all that other stuff that fascinates the political press but causes the public to disdain both the House of Representatives and the political press. For the rest of us, reading these excerpts should be plenty.
-- Jesse Gordon, editor-in-chief, OnTheIssues.org, August 2012
| OnTheIssues.org excerpts: (click on issues for details)
Budget & Economy|
Jeff Duncan: Cut House office budget by 10%.
Paul Ryan: On current fiscal path, US cannot afford superpower role.
Paul Ryan: Mandatory spending cap as percentage of GDP.
Paul Ryan: Reduce deficit by $6.2T over 10 years with no tax increase.
John Conyers: 1971: Original proponent of Martin Luther King holiday.
Paul Ryan: Ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Paul Ryan: Annual pilgrimage to Selma AL for 1965 march anniversary.
Renee Ellmers: 64% of jobs are created by small business.
Allen West: No drugs; no drink; just Marine Corps.
Energy & Oil|
Fred Upton: 2007: Sponsored bill to phase out incandescent light bulbs.
Jane Harman: 2007: Sponsored bill to phase out incandescent light bulbs.
Michele Bachmann: Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act: no phasesout.
Rush Limbaugh: 2007: Phasing out incandescent light bulbs is nanny state.
Tea Party: Outraged at phase out of incandescent lightbulbs.
Blake Farenthold: Defund the EPA and start from scratch.
James Clyburn: Pro-nuclear, and deepen the port of Charleston.
John Dingell: 1970s: Pushed Clean Water Act & Endangered Species Act.
Allen West: Cut off aid to the Pakistani government.
Gabby Giffords: Cut salaries of all members of Congress by 5%.
John Boehner: Designating local earmarks is wrong way to do business.
Newt Gingrich: 1990s: Fund federal projects in vulnerable GOP districts.
Paul Ryan: Avid bow hunter who skins his own prey.
Barack Obama: Paul Ryan's Roadmap should be debated.
Barack Obama: GOP budget plan ends Medicare as we know it.
Paul Ryan: 2008 signature plank: reconfigure Medicare & Medicaid.
Paul Ryan: ObamaCare is government takeover of healthcare.
Paul Ryan: Under age 54, provided with subsidy for private insurance.
Paul Ryan: Obama: Ryan's budget plan ends Medicare as we know it.
Renee Ellmers: Worked as a nurse prior to running for office.
Allen West: Threatening Iraqi detainee yielded immediate information.
Allen West: Cut defense budget: I know where's the low-hanging fruit.
Renee Ellmers: Disallow "Victory Mosque" two blocks from Ground Zero.
Principles & Values|
Allen West: First Republican member of Congressional Black Caucus.
Allen West: 2003: Court-martialed for threatening Iraqi policeman.
Gabby Giffords: Great-granddaughter of a Lithuanian rabbi & a practicing Jew.
Jeff Duncan: I believe in God; America founded on Christian values.
John Boehner: 2006 speakership campaign: "For a Majority That Matters".
Kevin McCarthy: Overcame childhood speech defect via ten years' effort.
Paul Ryan: Adhere to principles to avoid squabbles among conservatives.
Paul Ryan: Elected at age 28 & immediately focused on budget issues.
Tea Party: 2011 freshman class felt unambiguous mandate to change DC.
Tim Scott: Declined to join the Congressional Black Caucus.
Tom DeLay: Three type of Reps: leaders, fiefdoms, & constituent service.
Al Gore: 2000: Pilfered Paul Ryan's idea for "lock box".
Paul Ryan: Enthusiastically promoted Bush's semi-privatization scheme.
Eric Cantor: Raise debt ceiling instead of tax revenue increase.
Joe Biden: Tax revenue increases must be part of budget deal.
Tim Geithner: Purpose of increasing taxes is to reduce the deficit.
War & Peace|
Jim McGovern: OpEd: Time to just quit and go home in Afghanistan.
Welfare & Poverty|
Emmanuel Cleaver: Direct federal grants to persistently impoverished districts.
Eric Cantor: Backed down on block granting food stamps to the states.
James Clyburn: History of S.C. precludes block granting food stamps.
Jeb Hensarling: Direct federal grants to persistently impoverished districts.
Jo Ann Emerson: Direct federal grants to persistently impoverished districts.
Paul Ryan: End federal food stamps with block grant to the states.
Paul Ryan: Direct federal grants to persistently impoverished districts.
The above quotations are from Do Not Ask What Good We Do
Inside the U.S. House of Representatives,
Biographies by and about Mitt Romney:
- Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama On the Issues, by Jesse Gordon, Jan. 2012
- The Real Romney, by Kranish & Helman, Jan. 17, 2012
- The Mormon Faith of Mitt Romney, by Andrew Jackson, Dec. 25, 2011
- Mitt Romney vs. Rick Perry On the Issues, by Jesse Gordon, Dec. 2011
- Mitt Romney: An Inside Look, by Ronald B. Scott, Nov. 22, 2012
- No Apology, by Gov. Mitt Romney, Mar 2, 2010
- A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney, by Hugh Hewitt
- Mitt Romney: The Man, His Values and His Vision, by Lisa Ray Turner and Kimberly Field
- Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games, by Gov. Mitt Romney
- 2007 Presidential Primary debates
Page last edited: Jan 06, 2013