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“Making Congress More Stupider”: Making Congress Dumber Has Not, In Fact, Made Government Smaller

You may recall Paul Glatris and Haley Sweetland Edwards’ cover article, “The Big Lobotomy,” from the June/July/August 2014 issue of the Washington Monthly. It documented how congressional Republicans had worked for decades to reduce Congress’ capacity for intelligent decision-making–while making it vastly more dependent on lobbyists and special interests–via reductions in appropriations for staff and committees and research initiatives.

The article clearly made an impression on Harry Stein and Ethan Gurwitz of the Center for American Progress, who cited it in reporting the latest self-lobotimizing effort in Congress in the FY 2016 appropriations process:

As Congress writes spending bills that attempt to implement the first year of its budget resolution, it is clear that the legislative branch intends to continue operating with one hand tied behind its back.

On June 12, 2015, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced the fiscal year 2016 legislative branch appropriations bill, which would cut funding for the legislative branch by 17 percent from inflation-adjusted FY 2010 levels. The House of Representatives has already passed its version of the FY 2016 legislative branch appropriations bill, which makes roughly the same overall funding cuts as the Senate bill. These cuts may seem like a good way to score cheap political points at a time when Congress is deeply unpopular, but in the long run, they only increase congressional dysfunction and make the federal government less efficient and responsive to the American people.

The fact remains that the legislative branch includes much more than just members of Congress. When members vote to slash legislative spending, they undermine the professional staff and independent agencies that make it possible for Congress to oversee federal programs and understand complex policy questions. As funding and staffing levels for these legislative branch institutions have declined, Congress has become increasingly dependent on privately funded lobbyists and outside policy experts.

As the CAP article notes, the cuts include those unique legislative branch entities the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office–both essential for understanding and reforming government spending.

The House’s FY 2016 legislative branch appropriations bill cuts the GAO budget by 15.4 percent from its FY 2010 inflation-adjusted level, while the Senate bill cuts GAO funding by 14.9 percent. If every $1 cut from the GAO equates to $15.20 of unexposed waste, fraud, and abuse, cuts of this magnitude could result in about $1.4 billion in missed opportunities for government savings, or between $7 billion and $8 billion based on the larger return-on-investment ratio of 80 to 1.

Even for conservatives who want a smaller federal government, Glastris and Edwards note that “making Congress dumber has not, in fact, made government smaller.” It just makes government less effective.

If you don’t really believe in any legitimate mission for the federal government beyond national defense, of course, this this is a distinction without a difference. But the rest of us are saddled with big, dumb government.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 16, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Federal Budget | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Congress Does Nothing But Sue Obama”: Boehner’s Obama Lawsuit Is The Fault Of The Do-Nothing Congress

House Republicans are so angry that President Obama has been going around them to make policy that Speaker John Boehner says he will file a lawsuit against Obama to stop what the GOP sees as abuse of executive power. Said Boehner:

The Constitution makes it clear that a president’s job is to faithfully execute the laws. In my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws. When there are conflicts like this between the legislative branch and the administrative branch, it’s … our responsibility to stand up for this institution.

Hello, pot? It’s the kettle calling. You’re black.

Boehner’s right in that the executive branch has been driving policy changes – even ones around the edges – and often using executive orders to do it. Obama is not the only president to do this, and it’s understandable that Congress would be irked at not being made a part of the process.

What rings hollow here is that Congress has aggressively chosen not to be part of the process. The 113th Congress is the least effective Congress in recent history, unable to get even basic budget and appropriations items, let alone a comprehensive immigration bill or entitlement reform. This Congress, and the House in particular, has made it a mission to oppose pretty much anything Obama wants to do (even, in some cases, where what Obama wants to do is not that dissimilar to what a lot of Republicans say they want). That’s their right, but it’s not rational for them to expect Obama to just sit by, throw up his hands and say, “oh, well – I guess I just won’t have any impact on the nation, even though I’m president.” (Though that would serve a Republican goal, too, giving them fodder to call Obama “weak” and “ineffective.”)

And it’s not as though the legislative branch hasn’t tried to flex its muscles and push around other branches of government . The House, in the past, has considered legislation that says, in the text, that the law cannot be subject to judicial review. Another bill would force another branch of government, the Supreme Court, to allow cameras in the room during oral arguments – something the high court doesn’t want and sees as a legislative branch encroachment on its day-to-day workings.

And is Obama really the only “kinglike” figure here? Mitt Romney, in the 2012 campaign, repeatedly pledged to undo Obamacare – a law written by Congress and passed by Congress – by executive order on his first day in office. Obama has been fiddling with enforcement and application of laws and regulations administered by the executive branch. Romney wanted to undo an entire law, just because it was approved by people who were duly elected by their constituents but with whom Romney does not agree. Rick Santorum, running in 2012, listed nine executive orders he planned to issue to undo laws of the land relating to abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage. He also pledged to call on Congress to abolish the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a court whose rulings Santorum did not like.

Power abhors a vacuum. And if Congress categorically refuses to participate in the law-making process, it can’t expect other branches to follow suit. The Supreme Court has had a major role recently in public policy, especially issues such as gay marriage. It’s not because nine justices are sitting in a room, wringing their collective hands in a menacing way while laughing evilly. It’s because the legislative and executive branches have been unable to work together and recognize each other’s authority.

So some in Congress think Obama is taking too much power in the way he does his job. Maybe if Congress would do its job, there would be no problem.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Don’t We Just Pack Up And Go Home?”: Republicans Are Afraid To Take The Blame For Their Own Actions

Just this week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have all presented the identical argument: passing immigration reform will be very difficult because Republicans consider President Obama fundamentally untrustworthy.

The general thrust of the argument is that GOP lawmakers aren’t confident that the Obama administration will enforce federal law, and as such, they don’t want to vote for reform. Even if Congress approves sweeping border-security measures intended to satisfy GOP lawmakers’ demands, they say, Obama, the out-of-control, “lawless” radical, may simply blow off laws (or parts of laws) whenever it strikes his fancy.

It’s a deeply silly posture, based largely on fantasy and this partisan pretenses, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took this one step further yesterday during a notable press briefing.

“When [Republicans] say … they don’t trust the president to do it, why don’t we just pack up and go home?” she said. “We have a democratic system. We have checks and balances. We have three branches of government. In fact, we’re the first in the Constitution – the legislative branch. And what we’re supposed to do is legislate, and not make up excuses as to why we don’t.”

“That’s not a reason not to do an immigration bill, that’s an excuse not to do it,” she added. “And around here, you have to always differentiate between what is a reason, and what is an excuse.”

This may have seemed like a throwaway line, uttered in frustration, but Pelosi actually raised a critically important point. If Republicans believe their own rhetoric, why would Congress even show up for work at all?

Pelosi’s response may have sounded flippant, but there’s nothing rhetorical or theoretical about the Republican assertions. If the majority of the House of Representatives is sincere, and GOP lawmakers seriously believe President Obama simply ignores laws whenever he feels like it, and acts unilaterally to impose his will, Constitution be damned, why doesn’t Congress “just pack up and go home”?

Indeed, consider the legislative process over the last month or so. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed appropriations bills, directing the executive branch to finance government operations. But if Republicans don’t trust the president to faithfully execute the laws approved by the legislative branch, why did Congress bother? Why didn’t Republicans balk and declare they would only appropriate funds after Obama had earned their trust?

Soon after, lawmakers in both chambers approved a farm bill, which the Obama administration will now help implement. But if the House GOP is convinced the rascally president ignores laws, why did they vote on the farm bill in the first place?

House Republicans keep voting on all kinds of measures, which would be an odd thing to do if they’re convinced the American system of government has broken down so severely that a lawless White House is prepared to ignore federal laws on a whim.

And therein lies the point: lawmakers keep voting on legislation because they probably don’t seriously believe their own talking points. They’re not genuinely convinced Obama will blow off federal laws, because if they were, they would bother to pass new federal laws.

What’s likely happening is that Republicans may kill immigration reform and they’re afraid to take the blame for their own actions. The “we can’t trust Obama” line is a fig leaf, and a rather transparent one at that.

Of course, if I’m mistaken, and House Republicans genuinely believe they see a president who casually disregards and/or breaks laws he doesn’t like, they can prove their sincerity by stopping the legislative process and beginning impeachment proceedings. But so long as GOP lawmakers continue to legislate, working under the assumption that the executive branch will still execute federal laws, the inanity of the Republican argument on immigration will be increasingly obvious.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, February 7, 2014

February 10, 2014 Posted by | Immigration Reform, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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