Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Real "Do Nothing" Congress - The Fightin' 112th

An op-ed piece on both the liberal-leaning Brookings website and the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute website titled "Five Myths about the 112th Congress" which expired (seemingly literally) on January 3rd, 2013 by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein takes a brief look at some of the "achievements" of the last Congress and where thing went so wrong.  Here's a look at one of his arguments, the inaction of Congress.

Many "experts" feel that the 112th Congress was as bad as the 80th Congress (1947 - 1948) under President Harry Truman.  Here's his address to the first Republican-dominated Congress in 14 years:

The 80th Congress is widely viewed as a "do nothing Congress" and was labeled such by President Truman because they opposed many of the bills passed during the preceding Roosevelt Administration.  Inflation was running rampant and there was a drastic shortage in post-World War II housing.  Here is a list of President Truman's recommendations that were given in a message to a Special Session of Congress in July 1947 and broadcast on nationwide radio:

"First, I recommend that an excess profits tax be reestablished in order to provide a Treasury surplus and to provide a brake on inflation.

Second, I recommend that consumer credit controls be restored in order to hold down inflationary credit.

Third, I recommend that the Federal Reserve Board be given greater authority to regulate inflationary bank credit.

Fourth, I recommend that authority be granted to regulate speculation on the commodity exchanges.

Fifth, I recommend that authority be granted for allocation and inventory control of scarce commodities which basically affect essential industrial production, or the cost of living.

Sixth, I recommend that rent controls be strengthened, and that adequate appropriations be provided for enforcement, in order to prevent further unwarranted rent increases.

Seventh, I recommend that standby authority be granted to ration those few products in short supply which vitally affect the health and welfare of our people. On the basis of present facts, and unless further shortages occur, this authority might not have to be used.

Eighth, I recommend that price control be authorized for scarce commodities which basically affect essential industrial production or the cost of living. I have said before, and I repeat, that many profit margins have been adequate to absorb wage increases without the price increases that have followed. Rising wages and rising standards of living, based on increasing productivity and a fair distribution of income, is the American way. Noninflationary wage increases can and should continue to be made by free collective bargaining. Where the Government imposes a price ceiling, wage adjustments which can be absorbed within the price ceiling should not be interfered with by the Government. The Government should have the authority, however, to limit wage adjustments which would force a break in the price ceiling, except where wage adjustments are essential to remedy hardship, to correct inequities, or to prevent an actual lowering of the living standards."

Here are the closing paragraphs of his speech:

"The vigor of our democracy is judged by its ability to take decisive actions--actions which are necessary to maintain our physical and moral strength and to raise our standards of living. In these days of continued stress, the test of that vigor becomes more and more difficult. The legislative and executive branches of our Government can meet that test today. (my bold)

The American people rightfully expect us to meet it together. I hope that the American people will not look to us in vain."

Apparently, Washington could learn lessons from the past.

Despite President Truman's chiding, in mid-August 1947, the White House announced that Congress had not acted on implementing a tax on excess profits, regulating speculation in commodities, allocation and inventory of scarce commodities, stronger rent controls, authority to ration, authority for price controls and only partly acted on consumer and bank credit controls along with further inaction on the additional issues of civil rights, aiding education and reforming Federal pay scales.

Given the 80th Congress's inaction on these key issues and their reputation as "do nothings", according to the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the 80th Congress passed a total of 906 public House and Senate Bills and 458 private House and Senate Bills into law during its two year tenure in 254 days of sitting for the House and 257 days for the Senate.

Now, let's look at the modern day "equivalent", America's most recent 112th Congress.  In its First and Second Sessions, the gentlemen and ladies of the 112th managed to "work/sit/do little" for a total of 309 days for the House and 303 days for the Senate, a reasonable number and quite comparable to other sittings.  Where the problem lies is in what they accomplished during that three hundred odd day period.  In the First Session, the 112th Congress enacted 90 public bills into law followed by only 110 in the Second Session for a total of 200 bills.  That’s a tiny fraction of what was passed by the 80th Congress.  Looking back to the stellar-by-comparison 111th Congress, it passed a more reasonable 383 bills in total.  

Just in case you were wondering how just how critical some of the Bills are that will soon be pondered by the brilliant minds of Washington and the partly newly minted/partly recycled 113th Congress, here's a gem sponsored by Rep. Michelle Bachman, not particularly atypical of the issues that Congress deals with on a daily basis:

This one has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, typical for this sort of Bill.  Looks like we're off to a great start; nothing done, nothing lost.

Apparently, when the elite of Washington have to deal with critical issues like Post Office renaming, it's expecting a bit too much of them to solve dilemmas like the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling.  Unfortunately, it looks like the 113th Congress is starting off where the 112th left off.  It's no wonder that Congressional job approval numbers look like this:

Just in case you thought that it was just the left-leaning Obama supporters that were pissed off, here's a link from an op-ed piece in the Washington Post by the same Thomas E. Mann and his counterpart at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, Norman J. Ornstein, who can agree on one thing; in forty years, Washington and Congress have never been this dysfunctional.

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