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Post-policy bill assignments in the House

Associated Press

As a rule, when legislation is introduced in the House, they're assigned bill numbers in order -- H.R. 101 is followed by H.R. 102, and so on. But tradition dictates that numbers 1 through 10 are reserved by House leaders for the really important bills that the leadership is most eager to pass. It's been standard practice for quite a while.

It's a symbolic move, but it has some practical value -- Americans who want to know what House leaders consider their top agenda items for a given Congress need look no further than H.R. 1 through H.R. 10. The more of those bills are passed, the more it's clear the House chamber is succeeding in passing the majority's agenda.

So, in 2013, what are House Republican leaders prioritizing? Jonathan Bernstein took a look yesterday and noticed something interesting.

Over 100 days into the current Congress, their agenda is ... almost completely empty.

In fact, of the 10 reserved slots, there's only one bill filed. That's H.R. 3, a bill to force the building of the Keystone XL pipeline. Even that is pretty minimal -- it's far more of a symbolic position than it is an energy policy. And even that took until March 15 to introduce. But at least it's a real bill, and to their credit it is a substantive measure, even if it's not an overall energy policy.

Beyond that, Republicans have announced that H.R. 1 is reserved for a tax reform bill. There is, however, no bill, at least not so far. For the rest of them, and for that matter for H.R. 1, nothing. All you get is "Reserved for the Speaker." That's pathetic.

I've been focusing on the "post-policy" thesis quite a bit in recent weeks, but Bernstein's observation seems to drive the point home nicely.

In 2013, can anyone even identify the House GOP's agenda? We certainly have a sense of their priorities by virtue of the House Republican budget blueprint -- eliminate Medicare, gut public investments, repeal the Affordable Care Act -- but beyond that, there's no clear indication that the House even intends to try to pass legislation this year or next.

Indeed, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been reduced to effectively saying his chamber will consider governing by weighing anything the Senate works on first.

The House, in other words, has adopted bystander status just a few months into the new Congress.

Why not at least try to write and pass legislation? Bernstein's theory is as good as any.

My guess is that the Republican-aligned partisan press is just so easy for Republican politicians that they've all become lazy. If all you have to do to be a favorite guest on Fox News or on syndicated conservative talk radio is to mutter something vague about Benghazi and make a teleprompter joke, what's the incentive of doing the hard work of actually writing a bill?

It's a post-policy party, plain and simple.