Log Out | Member Center

65°F

78°/56°

Albert R. Hunt: This Congress makes us yearn for the ‘do-nothing’

  • Bloomberg News
  • Published Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, at 12 a.m.

This congressional session is historic: It’s the least productive, most unpopular in memory, and makes the 80th Congress, famously labeled “do nothing” by President Truman, appear prolific.

For the first time, public approval of Congress is below 10 percent. This session has passed fewer bills than any session since World War II – the recent deeply diluted budget measure a rare semi-significant exception – and cheap political games have dominated.

The blame is bipartisan, and the White House made some egregious errors. Still, this Congress bears a Republican stamp, with the tone and agenda often set by the right wing of the party.

The Senate-passed immigration bill languishes in the House, even though it commands support from a majority of the members. Republican leaders won’t bring it up lest they face a revolt from the party rank and file.

The farm bill is stalled. It has many flaws, but a major impediment is right-wing Republicans who insist that food stamps for the neediest must be slashed.

The budget agreement could have been a big deal, with more than $1 trillion in long-term deficit reduction through major entitlement changes and closing tax loopholes or preferences. That could have won White House support and, with pressure, a majority of reluctant congressional Democrats. It would have been a shot in the arm to business confidence and markets.

The Republican right would have gone ballistic; that deal never got on the table.

The Senate, with a few exceptions, was almost as dysfunctional as the House. The decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to change the rules to make it easier to confirm presidential nominations is a dangerous precedent. More dangerous was the Republican minority’s willingness to abuse the rules by waging scores of filibusters against President Obama’s nominations, more than all other presidents combined. Using the filibuster routinely, thus requiring a 60-vote supermajority to get anything done, is unsustainable.

Then there is serious oversight, which should be possible even in a partisan environment. This session, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has held hearings on the Internal Revenue Service, the deaths of Americans in Libya, the Affordable Care Act and Attorney General Eric Holder. These proceedings have been characterized by unsubstantiated charges, rogue staff behavior, misleading leaks of selective information and a refusal to consider anything that might prove contrary to the chairman’s objectives.

With a reckless disregard for facts, Issa calls his targets liars. He has been an embarrassment to more than a few fellow Republicans.

Correctives aren’t easy. Some advocates see reforming the partisan way House districts are drawn as the solution, and are encouraged that mainstream conservative powerhouses such as Karl Rove’s money machine and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are threatening to take on the party’s right. But so far the only right-wing incumbent targeted is a U.S. representative from Grand Rapids, Mich.

Ironically, said political scientist Charles O. Jones, academics used to see more disciplined political parties as the way to encourage responsible governing. “Now, we see narrow margins encouraging tight discipline and leaving little space for cross-party negotiation,” he said, with “remarkable insensitivity to the political costs of unwavering party unity.”

The only way this spiral ends is an election that either ratifies or repudiates the Republican right.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist.

Subscribe to our newsletters

The Wichita Eagle welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views. Please see our commenting policy for more information.

Have a news tip? You can send it to wenews@wichitaeagle.com or consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Wichita Eagle.

Search for a job

in

Top jobs