Do Nothing, Know Nothing
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?
- Congress on pace to be least productive since 1947 (shortformblog.com)
- Approval of Congress falls to all-time low (news.yahoo.com)
- You: Drought-Driven Voters Vent Anger Over Farm Bill (nytimes.com)
- History-making Congress (politicalirony.com)
- LaTourette Syndrome (logarchism.com)
- Boehner’s Congress: Least Productive Of Post-WWII Era (thinkprogress.org)
- Congress hits 10 percent approval (politico.com)
- Enduring Drought, Farmers Draw the Line at Congress (moroccotomorrow.org)
- This Congress could be least productive since 1947 (usatoday.com)
- Ezra Klein — 14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever (prn.fm)