Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The "Do-Even-Less-Than-Nothing" Congress

Way back in 1948 President Harry Truman immortalized the 80th Congress as the "Do-Nothing Congress." By hammering away at that theme, HST was able to pull victory from what almost all Pols and Pundits predicted would certainly be the "jaws of defeat." The Chicago Tribune was so certain that it made "Dewey Wins" the gigantic front-page headline of an edition that they were quickly forced to retract. Whether or not Truman's assessment was categorically true, he pulled off what is still almost universally regarded as the greatest upset in the history of presidential elections, and used it as a goad to press the 81st Congress to enact several parts of his Fair Deal platform.  (I actually held a copy of the Trib in my hot little hand when one of the parish priests at St. Pats interrupted our touch football game to teach us a couple of lessons about hubris in real world politics.)

Memories of that "do-nothing 80th Congress came flooding back to me when I read two articles in the opinion section of the New York Times. One was headed "The Do-Even-Less Congress" and written by Charles W. Blow. the other was "What the Republicans Failed to Accomplish" by David Firestone. As of the end of July, Blow asserted, "the current Congress had enacted 142 laws, the fewest of any Congress in the past two decades over the equivalent time span," and only 108 of those were substantial pieces of legislation. Most of the rest involved the renaming of post offices, anniversary commemorations, and other purely ceremonial acts. President Obama has found it necessary to veto only two bills, fewer than and president since James Garfield in 1881--and his term lasted only 200 days before he was assassinated. (Now that paucity of vetoes might signify a high level of agreement between the executive and the legislature, but anybody with a breath in her or his body knows how ridiculous that conclusion would be.) Perhaps we should be grateful that the House is scheduled to be in session 135 days, which works out to 942 hours, an average of about 28 hours per week. Even the most low-paid member of the House scores $174,00 a year, plus a benefit package to die for. That is about the only thing that Democrats and Republicans agree upon, besides the conviction that it should be more. (Don't even attempt to calculate pay per hour. It would only drive you crazy, suicidal, or better yet, homicidal). The average full-time worker logs in more than 1,700 hours per year, for a comparative pittance.

Mr. Blow cites a June report by the Pew Foundation that found "Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines.....and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive than at any point in the last two decades." In my view, this is more about "partisan antipathy" than ideology.
Neither party wants to tackle the real "hot button" issues, such as immigration, inversion, inequality, and "too big to fail." The more liberal Democrats and right-wing Republicans are obviously poles apart on these issues, but the leadership and majority in both parties does not want to touch any of these because of their potential for real ideological disputation. Better to ignore them and rest comfortably in the status quo. Better to sling vitriol back and forth than engage in serious negotiations on any of these "elephants in the room." Republicans blame Obama and Democrats blame Republican intransigence. As Mr. Blow concludes: "Legislation is only a hobby for members of this Congress. their full time job is raising hell, raising money and lowering the bar on acceptable behavior."

Mr. Firestone elaborates upon the same theme: "The failure of this Congress (principally the House) to perform the most basic tasks of governing is breathtakingly broad." To prove his point, he appends "a catalog of the vital tasks the House was unable to accomplish before taking an unnecessary recess."
1. Failure to pass a full set of appropriations bills for the 2015 fiscal year of a continuing resolution to keep the government open past Sept. 30. Haven't we seen this movie before? It should be a real bloodbath!
2. Failure to enact a long-term transportation bill. The current one expires in ten months and is full of gimmicks necessitated by the failure to raise the gasoline tax
3. Failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform
4. Failure to renew the Import/Export Bank and terrorism risk insurance
5. Failure to raise the minimum wage
6. Failure to extend unemployment compensation
7. Failure to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act
8. Failure to enact the Paycheck Fairness Act
9. Failure to fix the Voting Rights Act after it was gutted by the Supreme Court
10. Failure to pass any measure imposing background checks on gun buyers
11. Failure to enact any long-term legislation to stimulate the economy and create jobs

"But there is one thing House Republicans did enthusiastically before pack their bags. They voted to sue the president for taking executive actions they disliked ---actions that were necessary because Republicans failed to do their jobs.

What is a voter to do? One good suggestion comes from Ann McFeatters of the McClatchy-Tribune News  Service:
Voters, return to your senses. Do not elect or reelect anyone who wants to refuse to pay debts America has already incurred. Do not pull any lever for someone who proudly promises never to compromise (without it politics is meaningless). Do not send to Washington anyone who tells you how much he/she hates government. Do not give your precious vote to anyone who labels the other side evil, treasonous, demonic, or stupid. (Well, stupid is OK.)   

Keep on keeping on.


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