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Why Mike Kelly 'got distracted'

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.)
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.)OversightandReform/Flickr

If you've ever had the impression that congressional Republicans just don't take public policy seriously enough, it's not your imagination.

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) was assigned to write legislation that would cut $380 million in loan guarantees to clean-energy companies. But nothing happened with that idea, because Kelly never wrote a bill. He got distracted.

"It was a priority, and it remains an issue of interest. But Mike's efforts shifted when he chose to focus more on holding the administration accountable with regards to [Operation] Fast and Furious. And then when the Benghazi tragedy occurred, that took the cake," said Kelly's spokesman, Tom Qualtere.

It's worth noting that cutting $380 million in loan guarantees to clean-energy companies is a truly awful idea. The United States should be expanding these investments, which are not only good for the economy, but also improve innovation and international competition, while positioning the country well for a changing energy-policy landscape.

But even if we put that aside, the anecdote is amazing. A Republican congressman intended to work on a public policy he and his party take seriously, but ended up getting nothing done -- failing to even write a bill -- because some far-right conspiracy theories popped up, which necessarily meant actual policymaking was pushed to the backburner.

As Jonathan Bernstein put it, "Couldn't write a bill because he was distracted by Fast and Furious and Benghazi? Why not just say that his computer was down or that a dog ate his homework? At least those cliched excuses don't imply what is really going on here: Republican politicians who believed that the job of a member of Congress is to be outraged, and once they've done that, they can pretty much go home."

Rachel used a phrase on the air last week that resonated with me and has been kicking around in my brain ever since: Rachel questioned whether Republicans are "post-policy." I think the Kelly anecdote reinforces the thesis nicely.

If you missed the segment, Rachel was talking to Ezra about the fiscal fight in Washington, and they had this exchange:

MADDOW: Does that mean that [Republican policymakers are] post-policy, that the policy actually -- even some things that seem like constants don't actually a matter them, that it's pure politics, just positioning themselves vis-a-vis the president, and they're not actually invested in any particular outcome for the country?

KLEIN: I would like to have an answer where that isn't true. I really would. And I've tried -- I've been trying to find it. I'm sure part is I'm not smart enough to do so, that I've not found the right people to have spoken to them. But it is hard to come up with one.

Ask yourself: how many issues would you say this applies to? Rachel and Ezra were talking about budgets and fiscal arguments, but couldn't their exchange apply to just about every possible political debate in the United States in 2013?

Mike Kelly couldn't even work on his own misguided-but-substantive idea because he and his party decided it didn't really matter -- they were more invested in pure politics, just positioning themselves vis-a-vis the president, and they weren't actually invested in any particular outcome for the country.

I could use the identical phrasing to talk about the debate over health care policy, reducing gun violence, energy policy, infrastructure, the list goes on (and on). Why else would Republican leaders vote 39 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and then vow to keep going, indefinitely, just because they feel like it?

Bernstein concluded, "[T]he real problem here, as it is in so many cases, is simply a broken Republican Party."