Saturday began Congress' traditional five-week, late-summer sojourn during which members engage in the customary sipping of mint juleps, kissing of fat cat donors and, oh yeah, jawing with select constituents.
Since this Congress is on track to be the least productive in history, members have precious little to offer constituents as proof they've been on the job. So the House Republican Conference produced a guidebook showing GOP representatives how to explain getting paid $174,000 a year to do next to nothing.
The GOP gave the manual a confusing title: "Fighting Washington for All Americans." Republicans are the majority in the House and on the Supreme Court. They are Washington. Basically, then, the playbook urges Republican representatives to tell their constituents they are fighting themselves. That's probably not a good thing to tell constituents -- even though it's true. A major reason Congress can do little more than name post offices these days is that House Republicans are beating themselves up.
As a result of this internecine fighting, the House failed to pass a comprehensive Farm Bill including food stamps, failed to act on immigration at all, and failed to pass crucial government spending bills for housing, transportation, interior, the environment, labor, health and education.
Here's how the fight breaks down: Republicans hold 234 House seats and need only 218 votes to get a measure passed. But on virtually any given GOP leadership sponsored effort to enact new legislation or fund government programs, 10 radical right-wingers will vote no. No matter what. Another 35 slightly less radical conservatives are more likely to vote no than yes. That's 45 votes. It means, effectively, Republicans don't hold the majority because of their internal disputes.
The infighting played out last week for all to see, causing deadlock on measures to fund transportation, health, education and other important programs. Moderate House Republicans balked at severe cuts to these programs. They opposed, for example, slashing the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency by more than a third, including gutting clean water grants by 83 percent. Their opposition, combined with that of Republican extremists who refuse to vote for any government funding, meant the GOP did not have enough votes to pass the measures.
To get the needed votes, the House Republican leadership could negotiate deals with the chamber's 200 Democrats. But the GOP refuses to compromise. So nothing gets done.
Just weeks after Congress members return from their summer vacations, the government may shut down. Republicans fighting each other means they're unlikely to reach a deal to sustain crucial services after Oct. 1 when the government will run out of operating funds.
In the meantime, House Republican leaders have suggested to their unruly members that they'll be fine -- during their five vacation weeks, anyway -- if they just carefully follow the explicit steps in their summer holiday handbook.
It suggests a series of very controlled town hall meetings, main street tours, farm visits, college trips and gatherings with specific constituents like senior citizens. It recommends Republicans hold private meetings with "women, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and millennials." It omits African-Americans, which, like Hispanics, do not give Republicans many votes. And in the document's 18 photos showing more than 105 people, only one black person is clearly visible. Perhaps Republicans are fighting each other for all Americans -- except black ones.
The handbook advises that Republicans conduct virtually all of the get-togethers in secret. It says to invite people to a meeting, tell the press about it but forbid reporters to attend. Afterward, it says, the politician should hold a press conference where he can tell reporters, from his perspective, of course, what happened. That is, if any reporters show up after being denied access to the actual meeting.
Perhaps this emphasis on secret meetings is because Republicans don't want reporters to see them fighting with constituents. And if the U.S. representatives do what the handbook advises, a dust up or two is bound to occur.
That's because the handbook recommends meetings on campuses, where some kid undoubtedly will ask why House Republicans voted 40 times to repeal Obamacare, the law that enables students like him and other young adults to retain health insurance under their parents' plans until age 26.
Also, that's because the manual suggests representatives tour senior centers where retirees are sure to confront them about GOP plans to cut Social Security cost-of-living payments, privatize Medicare and slash Medicaid, which pays for many infirm seniors' nursing home care. Obviously, a photo in the local paper of an angry elderly woman screaming at her GOP Congressman with a caption talking about the fight over Social Security that broke out at the local nursing home when the politician visited is not what the House leadership had in mind when it passed out this "fighting" plan.
The document also says representatives should visit farms, invite neighboring farmers, and in this case, allow the media to tag along. It tells the representative to be careful to muck around all sorts of farms, ranches and orchards. But it overlooks ensuring that none of the farmers care that their crop insurance and government subsidies are threatened by House GOP dawdling on the Farm Bill.
With a reporter snapping photos, some fighting mad farmer could confront his GOP representative with a pitch fork while demanding to know why the politician helped pass a Farm Bill that doesn't have a prayer of seeing the light of day because it doesn't include food stamps.
Clearly, these aren't the fights that the authors of the GOP summer handbook wanted to highlight. These are the fights, however, that the GOP brought on itself. The party is so focused on wrangling that it has turned itself into a spandex-wearing professional wrestling cartoon character. Fighting is not what Americans want. They want peace and prosperity. Republicans need to get that message and get to work.