The great irony about Congress being in recess this month is that many legislators work harder chasing money and shaking hands in pursuit of reelection during this period than when they’re in Washington. When it comes to uselessness, this Congress is one for the books.
The latest report measuring the extent of legislative dereliction was issued last week by the Pew Research Center. It found that the current crop of lawmakers had enacted only 142 laws, the fewest of any Congress in two decades during comparable time spans. And of those, it said, only 108 were substantial, rather than ceremonial. Even the notorious “do-nothing” Congress that Harry Truman railed against in 1948 did better.
It managed to pass more than 900 bills into law.
The sheer ineptitude of the House of Representatives was on full and embarrassing display in the last two days of the session, when Republican leaders offered a modest bill to deal with the child-migrant crisis.
The anti-immigrant crowd refused to go along because the measure wasn’t harsh enough.
A substitute, which passed 223 to 189, would not only expedite the deportation of Central American children, but it would also phase out President Obama’s program to offer temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children, even though this is in no way connected to the crisis.
And it would further militarize the border, which does nothing helpful, but does cost money.
Afterward, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, one of the most far-out members of the tea party caucus, was triumphant about destroying the offer by her party’s own leadership: “We completely gutted the bill.”
One big reason for Congress’ sad record of enacting laws is that Ms. Bachmann and her tea party allies have effectively become the driving force in the chamber and robbed Speaker John Boehner of his claim to leadership. That’s a recipe for failure. Many House-passed bills catering to the right have no chance of becoming law because the Senate won’t join the craziness, and the president would veto them if they got to his desk.
As it is, he doesn’t have to worry. President Obama has vetoed only two bills since becoming president, according to the Pew report, fewer than any president going back to the 1800s.
Meanwhile, in a little-noticed action before Congress left town, the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to declassify its report on the deadly 2012 attacks on American facilities in Benghazi after finding no evidence of intentional wrongdoing. Ranking member Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said the “bipartisan, factual,” and “definitive” report found no evidence of a scandal involving the intelligence community’s talking points on the attacks. No one was misled.
The endless hearings led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chasing after a nonexistent scandal, have effectively been exposed as a hoax — by his fellow Republicans, no less. The Benghazi circus and other purely political, time-wasting ploys like it — e.g., the dozens of votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act — are major reasons Congress has such a poor record on legislation. Members are too busy with political theater to deal with the burden of governing.
If they were to get serious, lawmakers would find that there are sensible, practical solutions for immigration, medical care and a host of other problems that afflict the country. They seem intractable only because Congress is not interested in finding solutions.