Another do-nothing Congress? Yup

The 113th Congress is on track to be one of the least productive legislative sessions in history

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
L. to R.: Applewhite/AP; Monisivais/AP

Jobs legislation? Nope.

A plan to fund the government for the remainder of the year? No, not quite.

Immigration reform? As if.

As lawmakers prepare to depart the nation’s capital for their five-week August recess, the 113th Congress is on pace to go down as one of the most unproductive in history, at least in the first seven months of their session.

The nation’s legislative branch has managed to pass all of 22 bills this year, according to the Library of Congress—such big ticket items as a bill “to specify the size of the precious-metal blanks that will be used in the production of the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins” and another to rename part of the 1986 tax code after former Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

And the last vote scheduled to take place in the House before recess is called Friday afternoon? That would be the Republicans’ 40th attempt to defund President Obama’s health care law.   

In all fairness, another four pieces of legislation await President Obama’s signature, including a bipartisan compromise to keep student loan interest rates level that squeaked through the House late Wednesday.

That makes this Congress’ success rate for passing bills hover around 0.4 percent, among the nearly 5,000 bills that have come before either chamber.

According to statistics compiled by the watchdog group, each Congress typically considers about 10,000 bills and resolutions, ranging from sweeping overhauls of the nation's laws to the renaming of post offices and federal buildings. About 4 percent become law. 

The GOP-controlled House was able to pass 101 bills this year, while the Democratic-controlled Senate cleared 29 pieces of legislation, but unsurprisingly, the two bodies did not agree on much.

“Are we frustrated? Yes, we are frustrated, but the American people are much more frustrated. The American people think all of us are not worth a warm bucket of spit,” said Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer Thursday. “This Congress has been the least productive in which I have served.”

The congressman from Maryland was first elected to the House in 1981.

The 112th Congress, in session from 2011 to 2012, nabbed the distinction of having the least output since the World War II era. That body managed to pass 28 bills by the time they hit their first summer recess in 2011, according to the congressional record, and a total of 284 by the time they adjourned.


For perspective, the 80th Congress which President Harry Truman lambasted as a “do-nothing” Congress ended up passing 906 bills in 1947 and 1948. The most productive in recent history was the 95th, in 1977 and 1978, which passed 803 laws when Democrats controlled the House, the Senate and the White House in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he was “not the least bit concerned” that the chamber appeared unable to pass typically-unchallenged pieces of legislation, like transportation funding or a farm bill.

“I made it very clear that I didn’t believe every bill that came to the floor had to pass. I believe in allowing the House to work its will,” Boehner said.

He added, “I’m sure the August recess will have our members in a better mood when they come back.”

There will be urgent issues to grapple with when the current Congress reconvenes in early September. Lawmakers will have nine legislative days to come up with a plan to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1, when the current spending bills expire.

None of the 12 annual appropriations bills Congress is supposed to pass have made it to the President’s desk, with the parties still eons apart on where spending levels should be. A short-term spending bill, known as a Continuing Resolution, will likely be a fix.

A comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed the Senate earlier this summer and President Obama made a cornerstone of his second term agenda, also seems to have little chance of being taken up and passed by the House.

Former Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate Republican from Virginia, said voters are getting exactly what they asked for when they ushered in GOP majorities in the House in 2010 and 2012.

“The voters basically were mad that Democrats controlled both chambers after Obama’s election and passed all this stuff, so they balanced government, they gave him a Republican Congress to work with, to stop bad things from happening,” Davis said. “The downside of that is good things don’t happen either.”

But those voters have also given the current Congress a 12 percent approval rating, according to a July NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Lee Hamilton, executive director of Indiana University’s Center on Congress and a former Democratic member himself, serving from 1965 to 1999, said historically, Congress passes the most legislation at the end of a two-year session, so it was too early to pass judgment on the 113th.

He was more concerned that Congress’ priorities seemed out of line with those of the American people, especially when it came to the languid economy.

“I don’t think a single economic bill has been passed at this point to address the jobs concern that the American people have, so there’s kind of a disconnect between what the people want and what this Congress has been focusing on,” he said. “From an institutional standpoint what worries me the most is the collapse of the budget process. That’s a very serious institutional failing.”

He too noted that the deep ideological divide among lawmakers was a reflection of the deep polarization in the electorate.

“It’s made achieving objectives, achieving the enactment of law very, very difficult,” he said.

Al Jazeera

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