Num­ber of bills passed by each Con­gress since WW II. Source: blog​forari​zona​.com

The 80th United States Con­gress met from Jan­u­ary 3, 1947, to Jan­u­ary 3, 1949. Dur­ing that time, they passed 906 new laws includ­ing 15 laws that Wikipedia calls “major leg­is­la­tion”, includ­ing the Pres­i­den­tial Suc­ces­sion Act, the Assis­tance to Greece and Turkey Act (the so-​​called “Tru­man Doc­trine”), the Taft-​​Hartley Act reg­u­lat­ing labor union activ­ity, and even the For­eign Assis­tance Act, bet­ter known as the Mar­shall Plan, which ensured the eco­nomic recov­ery of war-​​ravaged Europe.

Still, in the 1948 elec­tion, Pres­i­dent Tru­man labeled them the “do-​​nothing Con­gress” because they refused to pass many of his ini­tia­tives. Appar­ently, enough of the vot­ers agreed, because Tru­man defeated New York Gov­er­nor Thomas Dewey by a nar­row margin.

So if the stan­dard for a “do-​​nothing Con­gress” is fail­ing to pass bills, then the 112th Con­gress has lit­er­ally set a new record in do-​​nothingness: 151 laws passed in its two-​​year ses­sion, 61 bills this year and 90 in 2011. The least pro­duc­tive post­war year for Con­gress so far was 1995, when only 88 bills were passed. Even in 1998, Con­gress man­aged to pass 241 bills and impeach a President.

Con­gress is doing noth­ing, but they con­tinue to claim to be about job cre­ation. As I’ve dis­cussed before, the job cre­ation record of the Republican-​​controlled House is dubi­ous, and is com­pletely at odds with the rhetoric sur­round­ing the Republican’s mas­sive “wave elec­tion” vic­tory in 2010. If you want global warm­ing denial­ism, mis­in­for­ma­tion about con­tra­cep­tion and human devel­op­ment, inves­ti­ga­tions that go nowhere and extreme blovi­a­tion, then this is the Con­gress for you. If you want leg­is­la­tion, or even “above all, do no harm”, then it’s not a Con­gress we can be proud of.

Mean­while, unsur­pris­ingly, Congress’s Gallup approval rat­ings are tied for an all-​​time low, at ten per­cent. Among pro­fes­sions, Con­gressper­son is tied with lob­by­ist and used-​​car sales­per­son for dead last place. Tele­mar­keters are more highly rated as a pro­fes­sion than legislators.

In Jan­u­ary, 2011, as the 112th Con­gress began, Gallup asked Amer­i­cans:

Now that the Repub­li­cans are in con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, how impor­tant do you think each of the fol­low­ing goals should be for the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship — extremely impor­tant, very impor­tant, mod­er­ately impor­tant, or not that impor­tant? How about pre­vent­ing Pres­i­dent Obama and the Demo­c­ra­tic lead­er­ship in the Sen­ate from pass­ing leg­is­la­tion that Repub­li­cans dis­agree with?

Even at that time, only 39 per­cent of Amer­i­cans thought this goal was “extremely” or “very” impor­tant. Tellingly, it was rated a high pri­or­ity by 29 per­cent of Democ­rats, 35 per­cent of inde­pen­dents, but 55 per­cent of Repub­li­cans. Even among the Repub­li­can vot­ers who turned out to vote over­whelm­ingly for Con­gres­sional can­di­dates in 2010 — a hyper-​​partisan bunch — only a bare major­ity thought obstruc­tion­ist poli­cies were a good idea.

Farm­ers want a farm bill, but Con­gress can’t seem to pass one. The House wants to cut $16.5 bil­lion from the food stamp pro­gram, which is part of the bill, while the Sen­ate is will­ing to cut only $4.5 bil­lion. With­out House Demo­c­ra­tic sup­port, the House bill can­not muster enough Repub­li­can votes even though Repub­li­cans have a clear major­ity. All they were able to do is pass a short-​​term bill which the Sen­ate refused to con­sider before its August recess. And so Con­gress fid­dles while more than 50 per­cent of Amer­ica burns.

How bad do things need to get before Amer­i­can vot­ers exer­cise their Con­sti­tu­tional imper­a­tive and toss out a few incum­bents? There are rum­blings. In pri­maries in Florida and Cal­i­for­nia, incum­bents have been booted by vot­ers. The Cal­i­for­nia exam­ple is espe­cially telling because they are now using a “jun­gle pri­mary” sys­tem, where the top two can­di­dates advance to the gen­eral elec­tion. Politico reports that fresh­men in the House are “run­ning away from incumbency”.

Ear­lier this month, I reported that Democ­rats will have an extremely hard time tak­ing back a House major­ity. Does this change the calculus?