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Do-Nothing Congress


This is pathetic:

Barring a burst of productivity in the lame-duck session in November and December, the 112th Congress is set to enter the Congressional record books as the least productive body in the post-World War II era. It had passed a mere 173 public laws as of last month. That was well below the 906 enacted from January 1947 through December 1948 by the body President Harry S. Truman referred to as the “do-nothing” Congress, and far fewer than many prior Congresses have passed in a single session.

It’s entirely understandable why presidents of both parties are centralizing authority in the executive branch. Why even bother with the dysfunctional legislative branch.

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  • Paul Campos

    It’s entirely understandable why presidents of both parties are centralizing authority in the executive branch. Why even bother with the dysfunctional legislative branch.

    Because of that whole “democracy” thing?

    Of course it’s a lot harder enact laws ever since the Constitution was amended to require 60 votes for a bill to pass the Senate.

    • Because of that whole “democracy” thing?

      I hate that our side always gets stuck being the noble patsy, and the Republicans do whatever they want.

      But you’re right, because of that whole democracy thing. That’s what happens when you actually give a damn.

    • wengler

      The legislature is perfectly willing to give up its power to keep its corporate sponsors happy.

    • Our President is not democratically elected anymore? I assume that you mean “that separation of powers thing,” but I don’t think this is necessarily a good functional stance to take for progressives in the face of a wholly dysfunctional legislature.

      • tt

        Given the filibuster and gerrymandering, there’s a good argument to be made that the presidency is the most democratic institution in the federal government.

        • Considering the mal-apportionment of the Senate as well as the fact that the President is both elected by a national electorate and goes through a rigorous nominating election within his party first…I don’t think there’s much of an argument that Congress is in any way more “democratic” than the executive.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            Well the Senate neither is nor is designed to be democratic. I think the House is another matter. And this is not simply a question of apportionment, but of how “close to the people” house members are…though with districts averaging around 700k people, they’re also not very close these days (and you need to factor in partisan gerrymandering and at least one party that is unusually disciplined and centralized in its operation).

            Of course, the electoral college suffers, in part, from the malapportionment of the Senate. And “rigorous” is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of the recent GOP nominating process, which produced a candidate nobody seemed to like, largely because nobody else who was running, other than unbelievable dumbass Rick Perry, had put together a serious campaign operation.

            I don’t see a lot of small-d democracy anywhere in DC these days.

            • NonyNony

              … when I think of the recent GOP nominating process, which produced a candidate nobody seemed to like

              Let’s be fair to Mitt Romney here. None of the rest of the guys in the clowncar this time around was liked either, at least not by a plurality of Republican primary voters.

              Part of the problem is that none of them put together a real campaign. But if you’re basing it on who is “liked” none of those jackasses would win that competition. Santorum fakes human emotion worse than Romney does (at least Romney comes across as “wooden” or “robotic” – Santorum acts like an alien being). Cain wasn’t even trying for anything other than the grift (though he could probably beat Romney in a likability contest among all but the hardest-core of racists, I’d think). And Gingrich? Given a choice between dinner with Newt Gingrich and cleaning out the bathrooms, I think most sane people would grab a mop.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks

                Point still stands: the “rigor” of the primary process often produces candidates that even their own party doesn’t much like. With the single exception of Obama in 2008, every single primary race in the modern era has been won by the candidate who raised the most money in the previous year. That’s not my definition of democracy.

                • I think that proves my point, actually. The fact of the matter is that Romney got more votes than his opponents, even though he was never really able to consolidate “the base.” That a Presidential candidate like Santorum or Gingrich can’t actually take the nomination on the strength of a relatively small number of disproportionately engaged activists without running a broad campaign that can appeal to a wide range of the party speaks to how rigorous the nominating process is in general. That a particular party’s field of candidates in a particular election was completely pathetic is neither here nor there.

                  Also, I don’t think your point about money really has anything to do with anything, in so much as primary money tends to follow the candidate(s) seen as most likely to win, or who spend the most amount of time prior laying the groundwork for a run. I think it’s also wrong on the facts, as I believe Romney and Giuliani both outraised McCain in 2007.

          • Hogan

            The president is elected by fifty state electorates, not a national electorate.

            • mch

              Is this what it was like to live through the last years of the Roman Republic — the republic that was an important, really important, model for our constitution’s framers? It may be dangerously pat to say, yes, that’s what it was like, but I fear it may be all too true.

      • UserGoogol

        I would say that as a matter of general principle, a legislature is inherently more democratic than an executive, or more to the point, an assembly of people is more democratic than a single individual. In a diverse society, one person cannot be a particularly accurate representative for all that many people. With an assembly, you can have a wide variety of views represented. (The United States is extremely far from being the ideal of proportional representation, but at least it’s something.)

  • Leeds man

    Hey, it’s quality not quantity;

    …House bill (HR 2827), which rolls back a portion of Dodd-Frank designed to protect cities and towns from the next Jefferson County disaster

    This bill passed last night with the support of both parties and Barney Frank. Are you proud to be an American yet?

    • I trust Barney Frank’s knowledge and judgment on the issue a lot more than Rolling Stone’s. The ordinary process of municipal bond issues is not what needed fixing in financial reform, and would be a massive problem for little town halls.

      Taibbi’s reading of the single line of language he exempted, and the structure he builds on it, remind me of the tea baggers’ reading of the definition of end-of-life counseling in the ACA, and the structure they built on that.

      • Leeds man
        • How to address this question so that all of the legitimate concerns are addressed is a technical, specialized process, and as much as I like the AFL-CIO and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and all the good works they do, they are not my go-to guys for technocratic solutions regarding industry regulation.

          Not everything is the class war. The government actually has a day job.

        • On the other hand, notice how this bit of necessary housekeeping gets taken care of forthwith, while so many other, more important priorities linger.

      • $$$$

        I trust Barney Frank’s knowledge and judgment on the issue

        knowledge – sure but BF’s judgement is a bit iffy.

        Frank has been in the pocket of FIRE for at least the last 15 years. He started out as a liberal on financial regulation issues
        back when he was funded by the building trades and unions. Frank became much more friendly to those interests as he rose up the Financial Services ladder. Raking in all that loot from FIRE despite not having a serious challenger for 24 years certainly help him ‘clarify’ his views on regulation.

        How long after retirement before Frank is lobbying for Wall Street?

        • FIRE is far too broad for anyone to be in the pocket of the entire sector.

          Barney Frank is in the pocket of small banks and credit unions. You know the Move Your Money Project? Barney Frank is in the pocket of the people they urge you to move your money to.

  • Lamont Cranston

    Good thing there are no national problems that need solving right now.

    • DrDick

      The last thing the House Republicans want to do is solve any of our problems before the election (or afterward if Obama wins).

      • This is true.

        But how long can they keep doing this? How long can the leadership hold together an entire Republican caucus in lockstep commitment to total obstruction?

        Indefinitely? Until they lose three elections in a row?

        • Bill Murray

          do you really think they have tried that hard to win the presidency in either 2008 or 2012? Were there even any second tier candidates running?

          • Yes, I think it’s tin-foil territory to think that either of the national parties would willingly cede a Presidential election.

            • Bill Murray

              Willingly ceded is your terminology not mine. Willingly cede would mean they didn’t run a candidate, not that they ran a poor candidate.

              Even a great candidate would have struggled to get close to winning in 2008, after the mess Bush and the Rs made of the country, so a prudent strategy would mean minimizing resources in races you can’t win and managing expectations going forward. I suppose that could be tinfoil hat territory under some definition of which I am not aware.

              My point being if you know the strategy is to not worry about the other side having the Presidency, maintaining solidarity in the ranks is much less difficult than in most other situations

              • The terminology isn’t your problem.

                The tinfoil hat theory that one of the major parties isn’t working hard to win the Presidency is.

                It really doesn’t matter how you phrase it. You’ve ginned up a conspiracy theory to retroactively make the mess, complicated world fit into a neat, understandable narrative.

                Ceding the Presidential election – no, I’m not interested in a critique of my phrasing – is never a prudent strategy, and neither of the parties has ever done so.

          • sparks

            If ZEGS is their idea of a 2016 juggernaut to the White House, I have doubts of the Repubs collective sanity.

          • rea

            Were there even any second tier candidates running?

            I hate to tell you, Romney really is at the tipmost top of the Republican first tier. They have no one better who sat out the race. Christie? Jindal? DeMint? Be serious. They are all part of the clown show–squeeze their noses and you get beeps.

            • Bill Murray

              so clown show is the first tier? i guess we have different definitions, although clown show was all that was on display this year. I think it quite likely there is a not particularly well known Republican out there right now that can make a strong run in 2016. Now who that might be I don’t know, that’s kind of the point of not particularly well known

              • NonyNony

                Yes. The clown shop is their top tier. This is one of the perils of letting the fringe elements of your party take over the leadership roles.

                • DrDick

                  I have to agree here. I cannot think of a single prominent Republican who is substantially better than Romney, who would have been third or low second tier in most previous elections.

            • firefall

              Now I want to make an app that lets you do that to their photos

        • Murc

          How long can the leadership hold together an entire Republican caucus in lockstep commitment to total obstruction?

          Isn’t this working the other way around?

          Republican Senators have significant personal freedom in their votes, even with their stricter caucus rules. Republicans in the House don’t, but don’t the rank and file actually, you know, believe in obstruction?

          I haven’t gotten the impression that Boehner, Cantor, McConnel, et al. are having to twist a lot of arms here. The Republicans, in general, are committed to their goals, and many of them have what would in other circumstances be an admirable quality; they don’t care if they’re turfed out of office.

          • I think the leadership has to twist a small number of arms in order to get 100% of their caucus instead of 94-98%, and I think that is the difference between a relatively do-nothing Congress and one that buries the all-time record for obstruction by a country mile.

          • DrDick

            I think the House leadership has shown itself incapable of preventing the extremists in the caucus from engaging in obstructionism, even when it was in their interests not to obstruct.

        • cpinva

          until their constituents finally realize that their republican representative’s determination to do nothing, aside from passing laws to take control of ladies lady parts away from the ladies themselves, is actually hurting them. based on recent history, this could be several decades down the road, since it appears that republicans are congenitally stupid.

          Indefinitely? Until they lose three elections in a row?

        • Ted

          But how long can they keep doing this? How long can the leadership hold together an entire Republican caucus in lockstep commitment to total obstruction?

          Indefinitely? Until they lose three elections in a row?

          Until they realize that the Southern strategy has finally been exhausted. These people have no plan b and, as Rove realized a decade ago, the Latino population is growing too fast for them to be effectively demonized.

        • Heron

          The South fought integration and civil rights successfully in the Senate from the end of Reconstruction until LBJ’s Voting Rights Act. The modern Republican party is their philosophical descendant. They’ll keep this up until it destroys them, and given that the DNC is perfectly content to cede most of the south and west as well as down-ticket races nationally to the Rs, that could be a while.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        The last thing the House Republicans want to do is solve any of our problems before the election (or afterward if Obama wins).

        Exactly. The non-productivity of this Congress reflects what the Republican Party very successfully set out to do in this Congress. Yes, there’s plenty of institutional dysfunctionality, of which the GOP is taking advantage. But when an institution that is doing exactly what one of the two parties wants it to do, it’s functioning just fine (at least for that party). And blame should, in this case, rest more with the GOP than with the institution of Congress itself.

    • MAJeff

      The GOP has a solution: pray. What else would a religious party propose?

  • Aaron B.

    The good news is I think any party that gains control of both houses and the Presidency is likely to eliminate the filibuster as their first act, after seeing how shamelessly the Republicans abused it during the 112th. That would make legislative action dramatically easier.

    Of course, nobody’s likely to side with me on having a unicameral legislature anytime in the near future.

    • Linnaeus

      Of course, nobody’s likely to side with me on having a unicameral legislature anytime in the near future.

      I might. The Senate looks like a quasi-aristocratic vestige to me right now.

      • Aaron B.

        /sputter but, but, something something cooling tray of democracy! Something something state power!

        • Leeds man

          In Canada, the (unelected) Senate is called the house of sober second thought. More of a drying-out tray.

          • redrob64

            It was called that by Sir John A. MacDonald, who is also famous for this exchange (vaguely remembered from grade school textbook) in the House of Commons:

            Edward Blake (leader of the opposition): Sir, you are drunk! You do not deserve to be Prime Minister.

            Sir John: Indeed I am, sir. But it would appear that the people of Canada prefer me drunk to you sober.

            And this, during a debate:
            Sir John (to page): Fill my glass with gin before my speech.

            Page: Yes sir. Would like it mixed with anything?

            Sir John: Of course not! It wouldn’t look like water then, would it?

            • Hogan

              “Is there anything in this water?”

              “No, milord.”

              “Then take it away and put something in it.”

      • Aaron B.

        Also, might want to update those metaphors since who the fuck knows what a cooling tray is anymore?

        • Keaaukane

          I think Cooling Trey might be a rapper.

          • Bill Murray

            I thought he was in Green Day

        • Timb

          It was a saucer for hot tea

    • jeer9

      The filibuster will not be disappearing any time soon. But it is a pleasant thing to dream about.

      • Aaron B.

        There was a lot of discussion of eliminating it among Dems in 2010 after the whole HCR debate disaster. I can’t help but think if either party gains control of the important legislative veto points other than the filibuster they’ll have a very strong incentive to eliminate it pre-session using the nuclear option.

        • I would just about guarantee that, if Romney wins and carries the GOP to a narrow Senate majority, the filibuster will be killed off in order to give Republicans the ability to repeal the PPACA.

          • Aaron B.

            I’d strongly oppose ACA repeal, but honestly, that’d probably be good for the country in the long term, since once the filibuster is gone, it ain’t coming back.

            • Holden Pattern

              Unless the Dems get control again, and then they’ll reinstate the filibuster, because look what happened when it was eliminated.


          • jeer9

            1.) Romney is not going to win.
            2.) The Dems will retain control of the Senate.
            3.) The Dems will not eliminate the filibuster (because of the resistance of conservadems or the sense of entitlement it gives old-timers or because the parties actually need indispensable enemies to provide roadblocks to progressive reform).

            Democracy will not be breaking out any time soon. We’re in for a period of VSP negotiating in a bipartisan manner about what safety net programs need to be cut in order to rein in the dangerous deficit.

            • somethingblue


            • Aaron B.

              Well, they certainly won’t eliminate the filibuster if Republicans retain control of the house. There’d be no reason to.

              • efgoldman

                Especially judges.

            • Timb

              Harry Reid said it would be gone

          • Timb

            They have already announced they will get ride of the ACA by reconciliation

    • chris

      Of course, nobody’s likely to side with me on having a unicameral legislature anytime in the near future.

      I do, and I wouldn’t expect to be alone in that. The tricky part would be getting the Senate to pass the amendment that abolishes the Senate. (Well, OK, one of several tricky parts — the Republicans might try to spike the idea solely because of its partisan implications.)

      • Aaron B.

        I like Yglesias’ idea of offering them all heritable noble titles in exchange for making the Senate a house of Lords,

        • Bill Murray

          US Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8:

          No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.

          • Aaron B.

            Sure, but you’d have to amend fe Constitution one way or another, and this way it might actually be accepted by the Senate.

          • efgoldman

            Well, since a unicameral legislature (like many other proposals from both side) involves Constitutional amendments is a fantasy land of unicorns and glitter, why not change that one, too?

            • efgoldman

              “….in a fantasyland…”

    • cpinva

      if the republicans do, yeah. if the democrats do, no, they won’t, because that would be mean. or something equally idiotic.

      The good news is I think any party that gains control of both houses and the Presidency is likely to eliminate the filibuster as their first act,

      • Aaron B.

        I think they know that Republicans will, though, so the logical thing to do would be to get there first and seize their momentary advantage.

        • somethingblue

          But these are the Democrats we’re talking about.

        • Holden Pattern

          Have you met the Democratic Senators?

    • Sly

      1) The filibuster will go eventually. Maybe not next Congress, or the one after that or the one after that, but it will disappear. Which party will do away with it is largely irrelevant.

      As the obstruction gets worse with each Congress, the argument that the filibuster produces comity by forcing a super-majority of Senators to compromise on contentious issues will continue to lose its luster. And as older Senators retire and new Senators (who not as heavily invested in the institutional memory of the body) take their place, that argument will become less and less appealing to the Senate as a whole.

      2) I’d actually push for a unicameral legislature that operates under the Wyoming Rule, while simultaneously acknowledging that the chances of that happening in my lifetime are approximately zero.

      • James E. Powell

        I’d be happier with eliminating the senate and doubling the size of the house. We need smaller congressional districts to reduce the effect of gerrymandering and to make running for congress less expensive.

        • S_noe

          Localism can be over-valued. A lot of constituencies are so dispersed that basing representation on geography doesn’t serve them well. (Geeks, LGBT people, potheads, etc.)

          A mix would be nice. If Article 5 really does limit the possibility of reforming the senate (the no state shall be deprived of its equal representation without its consent bit) -that is, if that clause can’t be amended away, which is debatable – I like the idea of doubling the size of the Senate, but electing half the senators “at large”, ie. nationally. Hendrik Hertzberg wrote about it a while back but it’s not his idea, I don’t think.

    • Heron

      I’d say it was more a sop to get the State govs to go along with the Constitution. Whenever State legislators, jealous of their prerogatives, questioned the Framers about whether moving to a unabashedly national government would make the States irrelevant, Hamilton and Jay could wave the Senate -filled with State-appointed Senators- under their noses and say “see? You’ll still have your voice”. That tended to translate into an aristocratic chamber -more so after popular election was introduced for the position and particularly at certain times, like these days and the Gilded Age- but it has to be said that the House isn’t much better. Nearly everyone holding national elective office in the US comes from a family with a history in State or National politics, and even those who don’t tend to be rather wealthy. Politicians who don’t look at the world from a thoroughly upper-class view are pretty thin on the ground.

    • I’d go along with a unicameral legislature if we could decouple representation from state boundaries, and implement non-partisan districting.

      Though if we could implement non-partisan districting nationally, we would have a lot less gridlock….

    • HappyPoppy

      Of course, nobody’s likely to side with me on having a unicameral legislature anytime in the near future.

      What? Lots of people side with you. Citizens of states that benefit from upper-house mal-apportionment (and their legislators) do not side with you. Unless you apply arithmetic from an alternate universe, the Senate won’t go away by constitutional amendment. If a subsidence event obliterates the mountain West then there is hope, but that could take awhile.

  • rea

    This was a hugely productive Congress from a certain point of view. The Republicans wanted to obstruct everything and they got that accomplished.

    • Vance Maverick

      So we shouldn’t be counting how few bills got passed, but how many were not passed?

      • rea

        Negative productivity

        • Aaron B.

          Like an insurance company: raises based on the number of claims you deny!

      • Holden Pattern

        Google “Tom McClintock”.

    • Sly

      Jack the Ripper was very successful at what he did.

    • efgoldman

      Well, they did vote to repeal ACA thirty-three times!

  • FlipYrWhig

    The point about consolidating authority in the executive branch is IMHO tremendously important and goes to the heart of the “civil libertarian” critiques of the Obama administration. While Bush, via Cheney/Addington/Yoo, embraced expansive executive power on principle, my sense is that Obama has done it in no small part in response to the obstructionism and dysfunction of the legislative branch. And I perceive a rather stark difference between “we have these powers because it is our due” (Bush) and “we will use these powers when you fail to act” (Obama).

    • Manta

      I suspect that quite a few Roman emperors did use both lines towards Roman senate….

      • firefall

        Well no, their usual line was, Do what I want or fall on your swords, voluntarily or not. Not a lot of division of powers in the Empire.

        • Lurker

          Actually, you must distinguish between different stages of the Roman Empire. In the first phase, during the reign of Augustus and the first century AD, Senate was quite powerful. All major offices (with the exception of the prefect of Egypt) of the Empire were filled with senators, and there was a number of very wealthy, powerful families.

          Even in the early second century AD, it was considered a “constitutional” requirement for the empire to have been also a senator. Then, when senators were barred from holding administrative and military commands, equesterians started to become emperors. With that process, the importance of the Senate started to really decline.

    • Ed

      And I perceive a rather stark difference between “we have these powers because it is our due” (Bush) and “we will use these powers when you fail to act” (Obama).

      Even assuming the difference is as stark as you claim, it’s a matter of packaging. The first assertion is implied in the second.

  • Jim Lynch

    It’s less pathetic than it is calculated. The GOP is the Party of Rule or Ruin. They’re proud of what they did.

    • TT

      Exacty right. The GOP does not consider a systematic refusal to accept the legal, political, and moral legitimacy of a Democratic president to be in any way “dysfunctional”.

    • Bill Murray

      Rule or Ruin? Isn’t ruin also part of rule? so it’s rule and ruin or ruin

  • herr doktor bimler

    Obviously all the necessary laws HAVE BEEN PASSED already. You’ve passed Peak Legislation.

    • UserGoogol

      This is a popular conservative talking point but I don’t think it really holds together. If you want smaller government, you need to pass some legislation to get there; it takes a law to repeal a law. And even if you want to maintain the status quo, the Congress has severely dragged its heels on passing the appropriation bills necessary to continue the running of the government. There are perhaps some of the more radical conservatives who just take a “heighten the contradictions, just obstruct the government from doing anything productive at all until it collapses upon itself” perspective, but that seems like it has fairly limited appeal if you actually think about it. Making things worse in order to make things better is a bit of a gamble.

    • There ought not be a law…

  • Ken

    Maybe it would help if you look at some of the legislation that didn’t pass, especially the nonsense coming from the House majority.

  • Given who’s running Congress this is probably for the best.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Right. As long as the GOP controls the House the less legislation the better.

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