We’ve all had the same frustrating experience – something goes wrong or breaks. We don’t have the skill set or time to address it, but fortunately a self-described “expert” rushes in, promising to save the day…and every single thing he or she does only deepens the problem, making it actually worse than if nothing at all had been done.
By every conceivable measure, the present – and 112th – Congress is the worst in our nation’s history. Worse in every aspect than the 80th Congress of 1947-1948, heretofore considered the worst by historians and Washingtonians, and so bad it was labeled the “Do-Nothing” Congress, first by President Harry Truman, and then by the public at large.
That 80th Congress passed just over 900 bills into law during its two year session – split about evenly, 454 in 1947 and 449 in 1948. For that dismal showing, more incumbents were defeated in the 1948 election than ever before in our history.
While I’m aware that statistics are not fun – except for baseball fans – fair-minded voters need to know the truth. Concerned citizens can’t just make things up (well, actually, they apparently can – Republicans have been doing it for decades, but then I wouldn’t describe them as “concerned”). So here are some facts.
By comparison, our broken 112th Congress passed just 81 bills in 2011. Of that total, ten – Public Laws 112-15, 112-22, 112-23, 112-38, 112-39, 112-47, 112-48, 112-49, 112-50, and 112-60 – merely named or renamed different Postal Service facilities, usually in honor of a fallen veteran, police officer, or firefighter. Three more – 112-12, 112-19, and 112-20 – “provided appointment” of three separate Citizen Regents to the Smithsonian. Another two bills – 112-2 and 112-31 – named one courthouse each in Arizona and Missouri. A couple of other flaky bills were done – 112-65 changed an eligibility standard for the Blue Star Mothers of America, and 112-66 made a “minor” wording change to the charter of the American Legion.
These are 20 of the 81 bills passed in 2011 – nearly 25% – leaving only 61 actual bills that could be judged the legitimate business of Congress. And those 61 bills represent only 13% of the number of laws passed by the infamous “Do-Nothing” Congress in its first year.
But the 112th wasn’t through. This year they’ve done even less while embarrassing themselves even more, with only 57 bills passed by the summer recess at the end of June. Of those, 19 bills approved, as in the previous year, the naming of post offices and courthouses. Another 2 approved “minor” word changes in previous bills. Leaving only 36 bills of any substance whatsoever passed into law so far this year – compared to 449 passed in 1948 by the “Do-Nothing” Congress.
In its second year, the 112th Congress has accomplished only 8% of what the previous “worst Congress in history” accomplished. So an immediate question arises: what does this Congress do when they aren’t certifying names for post offices and courthouses?
Democrats have proposed both large and small bills that would reduce income tax for Americans making less than $250,000 per year, provide quality health care for millions, give financial assistance to unemployed workers, mandate help for families with underwater mortgages, and scores of acts that would provide incentives to businesses to hire workers. All of these have been blocked by Republicans of the 112th using filibusters and/or clotures. Not just one or two or nine – they blocked all of them. Especially appalling was the day every single Republican Senator sided with a filibuster blocking the American Jobs Act from even coming to a vote on the floor.
But to show their hearts are in the right place, Republicans did introduce 467 bills investigating Democrats in various government offices – without finding even one instance of criminal malfeasance. They also proffered 36 anti-gay marriage bills, 46 bills to ban abortions and limit women’s health care options, 113 bills on religion (anti-Muslim and/or pro-Christian), 73 bills concerning family relationships, and 604 bills aimed at giving corporations and the upper 2% even more tax breaks at the expense of the poor and middle-class. And they teamed up with the National Rifle Association to present 72 bills making firearms more accessible to everyone, legislation that might not gain much traction in Aurora, Colorado and the Sikh community of Milwaukee. To top it all off, Republicans introduced 33 bills aimed at repealing the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, which they quickly dubbed Obamacare because they didn’t want folks to hear the phrases “affordable care” and “patient protection,” two aspects of the health care industry that have been sorely lacking the last decade.
Do the math. As Republicans wasted everyone’s time with bogus “social engineering” proposals, our 112th Congress passed only 97 bills of real legislation in two years – compared to 903 passed by the 80th Congress, slightly less than 11% of its most indolent predecessor.
So if the 80th was “Do-Nothing” and the worst Congress in history, what does that make the 112th?
At least the 80th Congress did not block everything the Democrats proposed – just the bigger issues. When it came to matters of running the government – like the 1947 debt ceiling – everyone on both sides of the aisle was on the same page. Back then, while Republicans were still fierce opponents of Democrats, they were not ready to sacrifice either the good of the American people or the machinery of government itself merely to gain the approval of the extreme right-wing of their party.
Meanwhile, the 112th is actively laying waste to our country just to toe the party line and win the next election – what’s good for their country does not even merit a moment of their thoughts. Their intentions are even worse than their abysmal record, confirming in every way possible that they are far worse than nothing.
This is not a wonky toaster we’re talking about, it’s our country – or what’s left of it. So who should we hold responsible?
Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein are perhaps the two most respected chroniclers of all things Washington for the last 30 years. Because of his association with the Brookings Institute, Mann is viewed as center-left; Ornstein’s years with the American Enterprise Institute place him center right. Whenever the two men collaborated in the past, D.C. insiders listened carefully, and often made their “suggested” adjustments. But nobody on the right is listening to reason anymore.
Mann and Ornstein’s new book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, unequivocally states: “…we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of (Washington’s) problem lies with the Republican Party.” Over the course of the book’s 200+ pages, the authors list many well-documented reasons why the title is justified: “the appalling spectacle of hostage taking” during last year’s budget crises, when Republicans put “political expedience above the national interest,” resulting in a downgrade of America’s credit rating; the abuse by Republicans of Senate filibusters and anonymous “holds” on nominations and legislation “merely to thwart majority rule;” the GOP resembling “an apocalyptic cult run by zealots and intellectual dead-enders;” Republicans telling lies on the floors of Congress “without censure,” and…the list goes on. At the end, Mann and Ornstein summarize today’s Republican Party as “ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of its political opposition.”
The public apparently agrees. The approval rating for our esteemed 112th is hovering just around 10% – the worst ever recorded. 30 points lower than the IRS, 14 points lower than Nixon at the height of Watergate, and 6 points lower than BP at the high-water mark of their Gulf Oil Spill. And yet, if historical voting patterns hold true, 85 to 95% of these reprobates will get re-elected, simply because they are incumbents.
That says more about us than them. As much as we justly complain about the quality of our Congress, if we keep re-electing the Representatives and Senators who make governance impossible, doesn’t that make us the worst voters ever?
Even worse than nothing?
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