WASHINGTON – With election year politics now added to lingering partisan battles, the so-called “do-nothing” Congress will be hard-pressed to lose its nickname this year.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the situation in the Republican-controlled House “poisonous.” But she expressed optimism Tuesday that GOP disarray within Congress could benefit Democrats in November both on Capitol Hill and the White House.
“[President Barack Obama] is running against the do-nothing Congress and he really should,” Pelosi said. “This is a congress that has done nothing for this country.”
After a year in which Congress passed only 80 bills – its fewest since record-keeping began in 1947 – lawmakers will attempt to rebuild their image before November. But as Congress begins its 2012 session, many politicians and analysts expect more of the same for the next nine months.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult because if  is any indication, next year’s going to be worse,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told POLITICO in December.
Michele Swers, an associate professor of government at Georgetown University, said not only will politicians be splitting time between Congress and the campaign stump, but also that – for the coming months – the Capitol will be the campaign stump.
“If it doesn’t have to be done, then it won’t get done,” Swers said on passing 2012 legislation.
Instead, Swers said, the two chambers of Congress will propose legislation to further their respective political tilts – Democratic for the Senate and Republican for the House. Clashes over major measures, such as during the debt crisis last year, shouldn’t be expected because both sides fear controversial votes, Swers said.
“I wouldn’t expect as many death-defying showdowns this year,” she said.
The House reconvened Tuesday after a nearly month-long vacation, returning to the Capitol as the national approval rating for Congress reached its lowest point since 1974. The Senate’s first session is scheduled for Jan. 23.
Speaking at a POLITICO breakfast Tuesday, Pelosi outlined her plans for the 2012 session, in which Congress will soon revisit one of its most divisive issues from last year: extension of the Social Security payroll tax cuts.
The proposal – which would cut taxes for 160 million Americans – received widespread bipartisan support. But disagreement on how to offset costs for the extension, coupled with a GOP provision to accelerate construction on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, crippled its chances for Senate passage in December.
The partisan funding arguments run along familiar lines – Democrats for tax increases on the wealthy and Republicans for cost-cutting measures. Both are arguments the respective parties will use leading up to November, said Swers, who specializes in congressional elections.
Pelosi also placed special importance on the Democrats’ coming attempt to retake the House, where Republicans hold a 242-192 majority.
“When we’re fully back here in February, it will be nine months until the election,” she said. “We have to have every one of those days very, very healthy days.”
She said Democratic efforts to retake the House are well underway. “We’ve outraised the Republicans, we’ve out-districted the Republicans and we’ve out-recruited the Republicans.”
“The drive for 25 [seats] – that takes us to 218,” Pelosi added. “I want 35.”