WASHINGTON — These are the final days of this pre-election Congress, the last chance to make an impression for Americans to carry to the voting booth. Nowhere is this clearer than in the House, where members are trying to keep busy while the Senate brokers a spending deal to simultaneously keep the lights on in the federal government and shut them off in the halls of Congress as everyone heads home to campaign.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin has a six-part plan to address some of the nation’s most pressing problems. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: the “Better Way.”
Mr. Ryan has spent the summer pitching his House Republican agenda on issues like poverty and health care (including a long-promised replacement for the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which left out such details as its cost). Here was his answer to the dearth of policy prescriptions in this election cycle, a buoy for his members to cling to, outlined in a slim brochure, tucked in the interior pocket of his dark suits for months and brandished like a talisman against the braying media.
To be sure, pamphlets occupy a sacred place in the American story — Thomas Paine employed them to help inspire the American Revolution. John A. Boehner, Mr. Ryan’s predecessor, had his own brochure, a little red number listing the points of his jobs plan, which he promoted in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election.
But with Election Day drawing near, it seems Mr. Ryan’s stash of the 20,000 pamphlets he had printed up may be running low.
“If you go to our Better Way agenda at betterway.gop. …” Mr. Ryan started during a briefing Thursday, reaching into his pocket.
“I’ve heard of it,” a reporter interjected, to chuckles.
“I actually don’t have my pamphlet with me,” the speaker said, looking to a staff member, who rushed forward with one.
“No, it’s O.K.,” the reporter replied.
Remember that sit-in?
Republican leaders still might (just wait, it’s coming, they promise) introduce sanctions against the Democrats who seized the House floor for 25 hours in June. Democrats have greeted that threatened punishment with all the false horror of Br’er Rabbit at the briar patch.
Republicans are still dangling the prospect of penalties for alleged violations of House decorum — including sitting on the floor, using cellphones to record and, more seriously, fund-raising with images from the protest — and Democrats are thrilled.
They know sanctions would remind voters of the sit-in led by Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights leader, that went viral on social media, energizing their base as thousands tuned into livestreams broadcast from lawmakers’ cellphones. It might also remind those voters that the House has not acted on gun control legislation since then.
Republicans know that, too — which seems to be why those sanctions have not materialized since leaders met with the sergeant-at-arms office before the seven-week summer recess. With some of their members still outraged by what they consider egregious violations of House rules, leaders are content to bring it up every so often while the rank-and-file wait, the Godot of legislative wrist-slaps.
Thanks for nothing
Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, sat near the back of the chamber on Tuesday afternoon, away from the House’s cameras, as he demanded one time-consuming roll call vote after another on a succession of uncontroversial bills.
It was supposed to be quiet on the House’s side of the Capitol, where members were to churn through 34 voice votes while the Senate worked on its spending bill to keep the government funded past Sept. 30.
Enter Mr. Huelskamp, with a parting gift for the leaders of his own party who did nothing to save him in the primary he lost last month. He was like a recalcitrant student trashing the principal’s office after he learns he’s been expelled.
Since his defeat, Mr. Huelskamp has shown no interest in changing his storied history of rubbing his own party the wrong way. Last week he threatened to force an impeachment vote on the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, rejecting an agreement brokered by the House Freedom Caucus — of which he is a member. On Thursday he criticized President Obama in a Twitter message in which he referred to those protesting a police shooting in Charlotte as “hoodlums.”
And there he was Tuesday, fiddling with his phone as he waited to request, 19 times in all, a formal record of his colleagues’ yeas and nays on matters like whether Olympic and Paralympic athletes should have to pay taxes on their winnings.
The voice vote, a way to plow through legislation unlikely to attract much opposition, troubles some conservative Republicans who worry about passing bills without the transparency of a thorough debate and recorded vote, said Alyssa Farah, spokeswoman for the House Freedom Caucus. They are often called on days when members are returning from their districts. (Two other Republicans showed up to request a few roll call votes Tuesday.)
The House squeezed in votes on a few of Mr. Huelskamp’s requested roll calls later that evening — all of which passed, including one that would bar restricting the Government Accountability Office’s access to information; it passed 404 to 0, with Mr. Huelskamp’s support.