The Session From Nowhere

Capitol DomeThe members of the 113th Congress have almost managed the impossible — to beat the Do-Nothing Congress of 1947-48, the one excoriated for enacting only 395 bits of legislation. [USAT]

Bills Enacted by session of Congress*the 113th Congress is still in session.

Not only is the last column in the graphic painfully small, but it becomes even more pathetic when we look at a graphic illustration of the number of bill which even made it to an up or down vote:

Bills up or down by Session 1973-2013Not only has the 113th Congress not enacted any legislation, it hasn’t even brought many bills to the floor for a vote.

It is one thing to crow about protecting the huddled masses from iniquitous laws, and quite another to simply obstruct the entire process by not even considering them.  From a technical perspective the Republican controlled 113th’s obstruction is a function of the misuse of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate and the absurd application of the ephemeral “Hastert Rule” in the House which asserts that legislation which doesn’t have the support of the majority party’s caucus will never reach the floor.  There is also the matter of legislation passing the House which has absolutely no chance in the Senate, and was never intended to have any life in that body, bills simply passed to pad the records or to make a display.  Witness the number of attempts to rescind Roe v. Wade.  The technical obstructionism of the Tea Party Republicans requires some heavy lifting in the justification department.

The previous “low” for Congressional enactment was the 112th Congress’s record of 284 bills to be sent to the White House, thus far by GovTrack’s count the 113th has managed only 56.   As the Nevada Progressive calls it, Less isn’t More.   What’s left on the table?

The Farm Bill – both houses have passed their own versions, and in the lovely but over-simplified “I’m Just A Bill On Capitol Hill” this should lead to a conference to hammer out a compromise bill which can be passed in both wings of the building.  The conference is in progress [WaPo] but there’s little progress to report.  “Competing House and Senate proposals remain tens of billions of dollars apart — the Senate proposes slashing about $4 billion in SNAP funding over the next decade, while the House would cut nearly $40 billion,” [WaPo] and the chasm remains.   For those who are unrepentant clock watchers, the House and Senate are facing a January 1 deadline.

ENDA – (Employee Non-Discrimination Act)  The Senate passed this bill, S. 815, on November 7, 2013 on a 64-32 vote. [rc 232] Even conservative Republican Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) assisted with passage in the Senate, however the bill may die in the House:

“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said in an emailed statement. Other House Republicans have been outspoken against the bill, arguing that it imposes on the religious liberties of business owners and managers. Although, there is a religious exemption under the law that protects churches and other religious institutions from being penalized under ENDA.” [USNWR]

The “increase in frivolous litigation” argument is boilerplate language applied by the GOP to any and all legislation pertaining to human or civil rights.  The House version, H.R. 1755, with 200 co-sponsors, has made it as far as the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice [Thomas] to which it was assigned on June 14, 2013 — and no further.  Sub-Committee membership includes Chairman  Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ),  Rep. Steve King (R-IA), and the memorable logician Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Neverland), among the eight Republicans facing five Democrats. [USHSCCJ]  Hope that H.R. 1755 will emerge from this conglomeration of Tea Party favorites must be slim indeed.

Comprehensive Immigration Policy Reform – The Senate’s version, S. 744, passed the Senate on June 27, 2013 on a 68-32 vote. [Thomas] It, too, has entered the House of No Return.  There are 11 pieces of the measure, or bills related to the measure, in various stages of decay in the House.  [Thomas]

 Common Sense Gun Regulations –  Polling conducted by Pew Research in May 2013 showed 81% of Americans in favor of universal background checks for gun purchases.  Including 81% support among Republicans and 83% support from Democrats. [Pew]  Massive support notwithstanding – the bill was filibustered in the Senate.  [WaPo]   Senator Heller voted to support the GOP filibuster on April 17, 2013 [rc 97], one of the 46 members of that body who voted to kill the bill.

JOBS –  Let’s look at our infrastructure needs by drilling down to one bill as an example. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced the SAFE Bridges Act of 2013 (H.R. 2428) on June 19, 2013.  “Directs the Secretary of Transportation (DOT) to establish a program to assist states to rehabilitate or replace bridges found to be structurally deficient, functionally obsolete, or fracture critical. Requires states to use apportioned program funds for projects to rehabilitate and replace such bridges. Sets the federal share of project costs at 100%.”   Rehabilitating or replacing insubstantial or dysfunctional bridges would be a blessing for the stumbling construction sector.  It would also, indeed, make us safer.

One in nine of American bridges are rates structurally deficient by the ASCE. [Report Card pdf] And, some 200 million trips are taken every day in this country over deficient bridges in 102 American metropolitan regions.   At least we made it over the river (and through the woods) to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving… now we have to do it again for Christmas?  The ASCE is clear that just because we’ve not worried about our infrastructure doesn’t mean we shouldn’t:

“Most of America’s infrastructure was built after WWII.  These investments of the 20th century spurred our nation’s economic boom and made us a global power. Today, quite simply, that tab is coming due. Australia currently spends 2.4% of GDP on capital investment, compared to 0.60% by the U.S.  Canada’s federal government investment in infrastructure is approximately 2.9% of GDP. And though our percentages of GDP spent on infrastructure are indeed comparable to Germany, in 2011, Germany adopted a five-year, $52 billion federal Framework Investment Plan for infrastructure. The question facing our country is are we going to maintain our 20th century foundation while making new investments for a prosperous 21st century. This is a unique challenge. America’s economy must lead the world, and as such, the foundation of that economy—our infrastructure—should lead the way. ” [ASCE]

The sputtering of conservative think tanks about the efficacy of public-private partnerships is singularly insufficient to address the massive infrastructure and transportation needs faced by this nation.   Meanwhile, Rep. Rahall’s bill sits in the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit — and has done so since the day after it was introduced. [Thomas]

A more comprehensive bill, the American Jobs Act, was re-introduced by Representative Frederica Wilson (D-FL) in the 113th Congress [HuffPo]

“According to independent analysts including Moody’s Economy, the American Jobs Act would mean up to 1.9 million new jobs.  The bill would provide tax cuts to tens of millions of low- to moderate-income Americans and stop layoffs of teachers, firefighters, and other public workers.  To ensure that the bill does not add to the federal budget deficit, it includes a series of cost-saving changes to the taxation of hedge fund investment income as well as cuts to corporate subsidies.  In addition to the provisions from President Obama’s original bill, the new 2013 American Jobs Act includes a simple provision to cancel the reckless, across-the-board budget cuts known as Sequestration for the coming fiscal years.”  [Wilson]

H.R. 2821 was assigned to the appropriate House committees on July 24, 2013, and then went to the land of No Return.

It’s not like we don’t have enough to do … it’s just that there is a Congress, especially the House of Representatives, which has demonstrated its incapacity to address the issues which need to be discussed and faced rationally, and to work for the American people.  The House Calendar (pdf) for the 113th first session Congress is “pretty blank,” and the second session is even further reduced.  The problem of un-productivity is exacerbated by the lack of  work time allotted to actually Doing anything.

President Harry Truman thought he had a problem with the 80th Congress when he spoke at a campaign stop in Elizabeth, New Jersey on October 7, 1948:

“Some people say I ought not to talk so much about the Republican 80th “do-nothing” Congress in this campaign.  I will tell you why I will talk about it.  If two-thirds of the people stay at home again on election day as they did in 1946, and if we get another Republican Congress like the 80th Congress, it will be controlled by the same men who controlled that 80th Congress–the Tabers and the Tafts, the Martins and the Hallecks–would be the bosses.  The same men would be the bosses, the same as those who passed the Taft-Hartley Act, and passed the rich man’s tax bill, and took Social Security away from a million workers.”  [SpeechesUSA]

Heaven bless him, he never had to work with the 113th lead by Representatives Boehner, Cantor, and the likes of Louie  Gohmert.

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