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“Just Doing Nothing Is Difficult”: Even By ‘Do-Nothing’ Standards, This Congress Is Useless

On Friday, the House of Representatives will join the Senate on recess, leaving the 113th Congress on pace to be one of the most ineffective in history.

Its reputation for inaction is well earned. As the Pew Research Center’s Drew DeSilver points out, as of Wednesday this Congress has passed just 142 laws — fewer than any of its recent predecessors did in their first 19 months.

And Congress isn’t just failing to act on major iniatives, like gun, immigration, or tax reform. It’s also passed fewer ceremonial bills — think post office renamings, or commemorative coin authorizations — than any of its predecessors in the past 16 years.

Pew Productivity Chart

As House Republicans demonstrated this week, even doing nothing has become exceedingly difficult for this group. Republican leaders were forced to pull their immigration bill from the floor without a vote on Thursday, after failing to collect enough votes for it from within their own caucus. This, despite the fact that the bill has no chance of ever becoming law, and is — by House Republicans’ own admission — substantively useless.

After allowing the most right-wing Republicans to order from a menu of changes, it appears that the House will be able to pass its message bill on Friday. But as long as the Republican majority is filled with “a lot of members who just don’t want to vote for anything,” as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) put it, Congress will continue to struggle to pass many actual laws.

 

By: Henry Decker, the National Memo, August 1, 2014

August 3, 2014 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hiding From Town-Hall Hollering”: GOP Now In Awkward Position Of Disappointing Far-Right Activists They Worked So Hard To Rile Up

About a month ago, the House Republican Conference produced “exceptionally detailed” guides for their members on how best to survive the lengthy August recess. Party officials offered some rather remarkable advice in the “planning kit,” including “planting questions” so local events remain on message.

Of course, that assumes lawmakers will actually host local events in the first place. The New York Times reports today that this summer, many members of Congress have suddenly lost their interest in town-hall forums.

Though Republicans in recent years have harnessed the political power of these open mic, face-the-music sessions, people from both parties say they are noticing a decline in the number of meetings. They also say they are seeing Congressional offices go to greater lengths to conceal when and where the meetings take place. […]

With memories of those angry protests still vivid, it seems that one of the unintended consequences of a movement that thrived on such open, often confrontational interactions with lawmakers is that there are fewer members of Congress now willing to face their constituents.

A unnamed Senate Republican aide told the NYT, “Ninety percent of the audience will be there interested in what you have to say. It’s the other 5 or 10 percent who aren’t. They’re there to make a point and, frankly, to hijack the meeting.”

I don’t want to sound unsympathetic. I’ve never worked for a member of Congress, but I imagine it’s quite frustrating when you go to the trouble of organizing an event and “planting questions,” only to see some local troublemakers derail your plans.

Of course, I’d remind these lawmakers that democracy can be messy, and that hiding from constituents doesn’t seem especially healthy.

The Times piece doesn’t quantify the observation, so it’s hard to say with confidence whether there’s been a significant drop in the number of town-hall discussions or if this is just something “people from both parties say they are noticing.” Once the recess ends, it’d be interesting to see an official tally to bolster the point — counting up all of the meetings held by all of the members, and comparing the totals to previous years.

But if the argument is based on a real trend, it’s worth considering in detail why, exactly, members who used to love town-hall meetings suddenly changed their mind.

It’s easy to blame annoying loudmouths who show up and cause trouble, but I find it hard to believe this is a new phenomenon.

Rather, I think there are two other angles to this. The first is that the Republican Party base is starting to push for things Republican Party lawmakers don’t want to deliver — a government shutdown, national default, impeachment, hearings into the president’s birth certificate, a special committee to investigate Benghazi conspiracy theories — and town-hall forums put GOP officials in an awkward position of disappointing the far-right activists the party has worked so hard to rile up.

The second is the flip-side: the Republican Party base is pushing for extremism, many Republican officials are going along, and invariably someone catches this on video.

Note, for example, that three GOP members of Congress have embraced the birther conspiracy theory in the last two weeks — and in each instance, they were speaking at a town-hall forum, being egged on by birther constituents.

In other words, we’re looking at a dynamic in which Republicans (a) will be pressed to say something stupid; or (b) will go ahead and say something stupid.

Is it any wonder so many members are hiding?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 13, 2013

August 14, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

112th Congress Is One Of The Least Productive In Years

Freshman Republican Sen Kelly Ayotte is often asked what surprises her most about serving in the esteemed upper chamber of Congress. The earnest, 43-year-old conservative from New Hampshire has come up with an uncomplicated reply:

“I thought that we would vote on a lot more bills.”

She most recently offered this answer from her Senate office at 3:45 on a Thursday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had just announced that the Senate was done voting for the week. Senators wouldn’t be needed until the following Tuesday.

In the lobby outside Ayotte’s office, a television tuned to C-SPAN was showing an empty Senate chamber. In offices up and down the hallway, aides were booking flights home.

So it goes these days on Capitol Hill, a place of many headlines and much drama but not a whole lot of legislating.

The 112th Congress is on pace to be one of the least productive in recent memory — as measured by votes taken, bills made into laws, nominees approved. By most of those metrics, this crowd is underperforming even the “do-nothing Congress” of 1948, as Harry Truman dubbed it. The hot-temper era of Clinton impeachment in the 1990s saw more bills become law.

There is no shortage of explanations for the apparent lack of legislative success. Political observers see hyperpartisanship and perpetual campaigning that makes once-routine steps politically perilous.

Experts cite the rise of a brand of conservatism that aims for a government that governs least. Historians note that it’s not unusual for Congress to take a breather after a period of hyperactivity like the one Washington completed last year.

Lawmakers have a long list of politically tinged reasons: Republicans who control the House blame Democratic leaders in the Senate for refusing to hold votes that might prove problematic for members up for election next year; Democratic leaders in the Senate blame Republicans in both chambers for not working with them on legislation that has a shot of winning a presidential signature.

Perhaps the only group seeing a bright side is the Democratic minority in the House, which supports virtually none of the bills voted on in that chamber but doesn’t have to worry about them ever becoming law.

President Obama called out Congress when he argued last week that members have to “be here” to make progress on its top priority: negotiating a deal on the debt that can pass the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate.

But it’s not necessarily time spent in Washington where this Congress is falling behind. It’s how little it accomplishes when it’s here.

“I put it this way: no harm done yet,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills). “But nothing accomplished yet — with a lot of ominous things that still may happen.”

To be sure, lawmakers are grappling with big issues, such as the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the government’s debt ceiling. Action on that front, however, has been behind closed doors in on-again off-again budget negotiations. Nearly all other major priorities — tax reform or a 2012 budget — have been delayed while lawmakers work on a deal.

And so the legislative trickle has slowed to a drip. From January until the end of May, the last date for which comparable statistics are available, 16 bills had become law — compared with 50 during that period last year, or 28 in 2007, also a time of divided government.

The Senate has taken 84 “yea and nay” votes and the House 112, roughly half the number as in 2007. The Senate by the end of May had confirmed just over half the administration’s nominees; recent congresses typically have been near the end of the list by this point.

The bills that have passed this year largely have been extensions of expiring laws. Also on this year’s list was a must-pass deal to keep the government from shutting down, which essentially was a piece of unfinished business from the previous Congress.

Then there were three laws naming public buildings, a resolution appointing a member of the Smithsonian Institution and one extending the life of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission.

The inertia might be best observed at the Senate Budget Committee.

When Ayotte was named to the committee after Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) abruptly resigned in April, it was a coveted “get” for a conservative who won office by promising to cut spending. She came out of her first planning meeting with a list of proposals, only to hear Reid say Democrats would not introduce a budget until after the deficit talks.

“I got appointed. I was excited about it. I had one good meeting and then it was done. That’s been my experience on that committee,” Ayotte said. The committee has not met since April 5.

But it’s not just Democrats putting a drag on legislative activity. Republicans on Thursday boycotted a hearing on a series of free trade deals, derailing what was considered a bipartisan effort.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) held his own protest to highlight the Democrats’ missing budget. Although Democrats say a budget plan is coming next week, Johnson used a procedural move to keep Reid from scheduling a vote on a resolution authorizing military involvement in Libya — the rare issue likely to find bipartisan agreement.

The “tea party” freshman, who says he’s used to working in business “where you focus on accomplishing things,” said he realized he was stalling “a very important issue.”

“But the fact of the matter is it simply doesn’t address the fact that we’re bankrupting this nation,” he said.

Much of this has been taken in stride by folks who’ve been around for a while.

“If you’re not comfortable with delay, frustration and impatience, get out of the Senate,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). “It’s the nature of the institution, but I think we’ve taken it to an art form.”

At the other end of the building, the House isn’t exactly breaking records.

The 50 bills it has passed in the first five months of 2011 represent the lowest such number in more than 15 years. Republicans’ anti-Washington rhetoric translated into a schedule intended to keep lawmakers out of Washington. The result has been fewer days in session and fewer votes.

Reid, borrowing the critique usually aimed at him, recently complained that Senate bills — a patent reform measure and reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration — had fallen into the “big black hole” of the House.

In fact, each side is piling bills on the other’s doorstep while they wait for a deal to come out of the debt talks.

That package could prove that legislative activity doesn’t necessarily correspond to substance.

“Obviously, if they reach some kind of deal that results in a sweeping change in the scope of government and the tax rates, they don’t have to do much else to go down as a consequential Congress,” said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. “Most everywhere else, their influence is puny.”

With an Aug. 2 deadline, it may take much of the summer to find out. After that, both bodies leave for a long summer break and return after Labor Day.

 

By: Kathleen Hennessey, Staff Writer, Chicago Tribune, July 3, 2011

July 6, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tea Party, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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