Tag Archives: Congress

GOP Age of Un-Enlightenment: Heller one of the #Iran47

Heller 3

Nevada’s junior Senator, Dean Heller (R) is one of the  signers of the now infamous ‘enlightenment letter’ to the Iranian leadership.  Heller, who has a certain flare for the dramatic – if not the practicable – has demonstrated his willingness to participate in amateur political theatricals before.   Witness the “Balanced Budget Amendment” which he hauls out every session only to be reminded that the budget of a sovereign nation doesn’t have the same characteristic as a household budget in East Deer Breath.  Or, there was the gallant attempt to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act, in tandem with former Senator (now Heritage Foundation guru) Jim DeMint. This scene evaporated as well.   Considering the matter at hand, here are some absolutely unsolicited bits of advice for the junior Senator:

#1.It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.”  Before signing on to this line, one might be aware that the recipients include  Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who attended Drew College Prep in San Francisco, got his B.A. in International Relations from San Francisco State University in 1981, and a Master’s in 1982. He did post graduate work at the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and received his PhD in International Law and Policy in 1988. Here’s guessing that the Iranian Minister for Foreign Affairs might have some knowledge of U.S. governmental operations?

Opening lines such as this are patronizing or at least condescending, and one of the Things Not Done in international relations is being… patronizing or condescending.  Iran, love it or loathe it, is a sovereign nation, and that pompous, supercilious, opening sounds suspiciously like the #Iran47 would like to teach their “little brown brothers” about U.S. politics. 

#2. Don’t make obvious errors.  It really doesn’t do to have a legal heavyweight from the Bush Administration tell you that the Senate may “offer advice and consent,” but “The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification” (my emphasis). [Goldsmith]  In athletic parlance, this fumble is often called an Unforced Error.

#3. You will be known by the company you keep.  Very junior Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has made it very clear that he wants to scuttle all attempts at diplomacy with Iran.  “The end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence. A feature, not a bug, so speak,” Cotton said in January, speaking at a conservative conference hosted by the advocacy group Heritage Action for America.” [Huffington Post]  This puts the #Iran47 deep in the realm of American hardliners who see no practicality in negotiating a deal with the current Iranian government.  Not everyone has dived into that pool, including acknowledged foreign policy expert former Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN).  If Senator Heller would like to retain his “periodically moderate” label, this is not the way to do it.

#4. The more flexible you are the more options you’ll have.  Taking the hard line stance as a signatory to the Cotton Letter means that diplomacy is off the table.  What does that leave?  Let’s assume the old adage is correct: War is the failure of diplomacy.  If diplomacy is removed as an option then the only way to resolve an international dispute is with armed forces.  But, what of economic sanctions?

#5. Don’t discard options merely because they require assistance.  Unilateral economic sanctions never work.  At best they can be functional in about 13% of their applications, at least since 1970, and  usually with small countries. (Rhodesia comes to mind)  [Hill]  Then there’s this observation from the Director, Institute for International Economics, a panelist at the CFR:

“There is no case—repeat, no case—where unilateral sanctions have ever worked to induce a sizable country to make a major change in policy, no case in history that we have been able to discover. The simple reason is that the United States no longer dominates the world economy. There are always alternative sources of export, import markets, finance, whatever it may be. We alone cannot coerce others. And there are always alternatives, and they will always be available.”

And, this leads us to the next point.

#6. The more friends you have the better.  The current negotiations involve  members of the P5+1 who are actually negotiating the deal with Iran.  The U.S. isn’t the only country with a negotiating interest in the talks, the other nations include the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the U.S.  Some care should have been taken that what was perhaps meant as a poke at Iran wouldn’t be received as a slap in the face of the other negotiating countries.  Now, consider the next point —

#7. If the #Iran47 intend for the talks to collapse, then the intended (or unintended?) consequence could be the U.S. wedded to a unilateral policy calling for a military solution to the issue of Iranian nuclear development? After all, why would the UK, France, or Germany participate in military operations if they assume their negotiations were in good faith, and the U.S. was the one to pull out?

Should the U.S. become embroiled in a war with Iran,  a nation with about 450,000 regular military personnel, some 120,000 in the Army of the Guardians, and about 3 million combat trained paramilitary Basij, it should be reasonably obvious that the conflict would not be a simple matter of a few air strikes.  And, while the U.S. is thus engaged what happens in, say, Ukraine? Iraq? Central Africa? Nigeria? North Korea? Libya?

#8. “Regime Change” is a term freighted with negative associations. In an ethereal world of ideals, as opposed to the practical one in which we are living, we could bargain very nicely with a ‘new’ regime in Tehran.  That is, IF, the new regime was cooperative.  However, as we learned to our dismay in Iraq, a new regime doesn’t necessarily equate to a cooperative ally.  The ‘new regime’ in Iraq refused to negotiate a status of forces agreement with two American administrations, insisted on the pull out of U.S. combat forces, and then proceeded to make a hash of Sunni-Shia power relationships giving ISI a wedge into the fray.

#9. Striking a pose and taking a position are two different things. Striking a pose is easy.  One may be belligerent – fists at the ready, emotions on high;  or pacific – fists down, brain engaged. Taking a position requires thought, especially forethought, and the inclusion of a host of factors which may or may not prove to be critical elements.   One of the conveniences of militarism is that it requires little forethought – have a problem with someone? Simply shoot’em up.   The current situation in the Middle East is not a scripted melodrama from film writers; the good guys are difficult to identify and may not always be ‘good,’ and the bad guys may be helpful in one area (think Iran and its assistance against ISIL) and unhelpful in others.

Signing on as an original founder of the #Iran47 wasn’t the best idea Nevada’s junior Senator has had, and in fact it may prove to be one of his worst moments.  Unless, of course, he would like to posture as a belligerent, mindless subscriber to militarism and the notion that not only is might always right but it also always works.  This is a dubious proposition at best, and it certainly offers a future challenger an opening on an unforced error.

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Filed under Congress, Foreign Policy, Heller, Iran

What Our Representatives Did Before Vacation

Amodei 3 House leadership has taken the biennial pre-election vacation, in other words Representatives Heck, Amodei, Titus, and Horsford will be home to face the voters.  However, the House did leave with some parting gifts to corporate America which Representatives Heck and Amodei might wish to explain.

Parting gift (shot) number one: H.R. 4 the inaptly titled “Jobs for America Act.” What this might have to do with jobs is a mystery unless a person subscribes to the well debunked Trickle Down Hoax which says that the more tax breaks we give to corporations the more jobs will be created.  In this measure the research tax credit is made permanent, businesses can expense certain depreciable business assets, corporations are given permanent tax relief,  the bonus depreciation is modified and made permanent, the medical device tax is repealed, there are registration and reporting exemptions for private equity fund advisors, there are registration exemptions for merger and acquisition brokers, there are more reporting requirements on independent regulatory agencies and a retrospective analysis of existing federal regulations – (and what corporation doesn’t want ‘freedum’ from the SEC, the OCC, the FTC, the Consumer Safety Protection Bureau, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…) —

And, then there’s congressional review of agency rule making, a permanent moratorium on internet taxes (pro Big Box and Amazon), a land exchange authority to privatize public lands in Oregon and California, and provisions on judicial review of agency actions relating to exploration and mine permits.

In short – this is the exploiters, polluters, hedge fund and private equity wealth management lobbyists laundry list of Things We Want!  And, we like to have them now.  It’s just about every tax cut and deregulations idea ever expounded.   And, we know where tax cuts and deregulation got us in 2007-2008?

And, on September 18, 2014 the bill passed the Republican controlled House on a 253-163 vote.  [rc513] Representatives Amodei and Heck voted in favor of the H.R. 4 – the Exploiters, Polluters, Hedge Fund Managers, Merger and Acquisition Brokers Protection Act of 2014.   Representatives Titus and Horsford did not.  But wait, there’s more!

Parting gift (shot) number two:  The House also passed H.R. 2 the so-called  “American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act.”  If you think this is about creating permanent and well paying jobs for American workers, please find a copy of the bill text – because this is not about lowering your energy costs, nor is it about getting anyone a job – it’s about approving the Keystone Pipeline.  That’s what the first section of the first part of the act is all about – approving the Keystone Pipeline to take Canadian oil to an International port.   Here’s an idea – if the Canadians want to pipe their oil to a port, how about they pipe it to one of their own ports?

And while they’re about it there are provisions in the bill to prohibit the consideration of social costs of carbon in any analysis, repeal of earlier rules and guidelines on energy efficiency, and then Drill Baby Drill anywhere, any place, any time.  This is the American Petroleum Institute’s dream bill. It’s a fossil fuel industry wet dream. And, it passed in the House 226 to 191.  Representatives Amodei and Heck voted in favor of the Drill Baby Drill/ Keystone Pipeline bill;  Representatives Titus and Horsford voted against it. [rc515]

Let’s guess that Representatives Heck and Amodei will come home to tell us they voted against those icky overburdening regulations on “Small Business In America” – the Norman Rockwell Painting People who run those Mom and Pop corner bodegas – not, so fast – the people they voted to protect are the corporate polluters, exploiters, hedge fund wealth management, merger and acquisition brokers, and Oil Giants.  This activity creates jobs, IF and ONLY IF we are foolish enough to believe that cutting taxes on major multi-national corporations creates jobs, and we know that doesn’t work.

The House had time to vote to protect the Oil Giants and the Major Corporations in H.R. 2 and H.R. 4, but they didn’t have time before vacation to take up:

  • The Voting Rights Act
  • Equal Pay for Equal Work
  • Comprehensive Immigration Reform
  • Student Loan Terms and Indebtedness

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Filed under Amodei, Congress, energy policy, financial regulation, Heck, House of Representatives

Keeping the Ladies in Waiting: The Paycheck Fairness Act

Woman's List 2On January 23, 2013 — yes, that’s 2013 — Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT3) introduced H.R. 377, the Paycheck Fairness Act.  The House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections has jurisdiction over bills of this nature, and by April 2013 the bill hadn’t moved.  Supporters of the bill filed a discharge petition. As of Tuesday, April 1, 2014 the petition to get a vote on the bill got its 197th signature. (113-1) It is 21 signatures shy of the 218 required.

Discharge petitions are a strategy of questionable value, since depending upon how such maneuvers are analyzed the success rate ranges from about 2% to 9% of all such attempts. [WaPo]

Nor has the idea met with enough support in the U.S. Senate.  As the last signature was being appended to the House Discharge Petition 113-1 in April 2014, Republicans in the Senate were blocking consideration of a companion bill.  [Nation] S. 2199, Senator Barbara Mikulski’s (D-MD) Paycheck Fairness Act was blocked when Senate Republicans refused to lift their filibuster on a 53-44 vote. [rc 103] Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) was among those voting to sustain the filibuster.

Republican opposition to the Paycheck Fairness legislation appears to be a masterpiece of ideological spin.  We, announce the members of the GOP, are really supportive of women’s issues — but government isn’t the answer.

There was this example: “The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender,” Mike Huckabee said at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in January.” [Nation] Huckabee offers a talking point in which any attempt to assist women (or any other group for that matter) merely serves to create a sense of ‘victimhood’ thus disparaging attempts by individuals to grab their own bootstraps at improve their own economic circumstances. It’s little more than the hoary Moral Hazard Issue, modified and transformed into an excuse to do nothing to help anyone, ever.

And this one:  “All Republicans support equal pay for equal work,” wrote Republican National Committee press secretary Kirsten Kukowski, communications director Andrea Bozek and NRSC press secretary Brook Hougesen in a memo. “And while we all know workplace discrimination still exists, we need real solutions that focus on job creation and opportunity for women.” [Nation]  This might be characterized as the Double Side Step Dance.  Oh, we’re all in favor of equal pay for equal work, but — we need more tax breaks for multi-national corporations, etc. offering more support for those elusive Job Creators.

And these: “Republicans have said that, although they support equal pay for equal work, the bill would increase civil lawsuits. They also say that the bill is unnecessary because discrimination based on gender is already illegal.” [WaPo] Ah, the recurring Republican nightmare, on display with nearly every bill which ever sought to regulate corporate behavior — It will spawn litigation.

The Lily Ledbetter Act was supposed to have done that [TNR]… except it didn’t.  Redundancy is another GOP argument for doing nothing.  The line can be summarized as, “There is no need to improve any employee protections because current statutes already provide enough protection.” This is an argument which neatly avoids the rationale set forth in the legislation which explains the necessity of the proposed improvements.  Witness, the prohibition of penalties for employees who discuss their wages, and the authority of the EEOC to collect data from employers about wages.

And finally: It’s just election year politicking. [NYT] Translation: You’re just trying to make us look bad. If so, it was successful.

So, what might disgorge the Paycheck Fairness Act (equal pay for equal work) from the Congressional bill grinder?

Get Specific:  At town hall sessions, and public Q&A events — Instead of asking “Do you, Congressman Bilgewater or Senator Sludgepump, support equal pay for equal work?” Ask them: What is wrong with prohibiting employers from penalizing employees who discuss their wages or salaries?  What is wrong with allowing the EEOC to collect data on wages and salaries from employers?

If they stammer out that those sound like good ideas, then ask “Why didn’t you support the Paycheck Fairness Act which included those two items?”  Or, if the individual is not an incumbent, ask “Will you support legislation which includes those provisions?”

Get rational: At bottom the Paycheck Fairness Act is of a piece with family finances. [Additional here]  From a previous post:

“The pay gap has some very real economic consequences.   One analysis projects that if the pay gap could be mitigated, and more women could participate in the workforce, we could add about 3 to 4% to our national economy.”

Again, specifics matter.  In Nevada, a woman earns approximately 88 cents for every dollar earned by a man.  Additionally:

“125,402 households in Nevada are headed by women. About 26 percent of those households, or 32,479 households, have incomes that fall below the poverty level. Eliminating the wage gap would provide much needed income to women whose salaries are of critical importance to them and their families.” [NatPart pdf]

Allowing a politician to pontificate about the highly generalized moral hazard of hypothetical victimhood, or rattle on about redundancy and projected litigation only serves to skirt real economic issues faced by real families.  Ask, “What would be the overall economic benefit to Nevada if the $6,319 yearly wage gap between the earnings of men and women were narrowed?”

Playing with the calculator — if only 1,000 of those households in Nevada, headed by women, were to get the same wages as their male counterparts for doing the same job, and that $6,139 gap were closed, the result would be $6,139,000 added to the aggregate demand for goods and services in this state.

Get Out and Vote.

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Filed under Economy, equal pay, Heller, Ledbetter Decision, Nevada economy, Politics, Republicans, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

The Do Almost Less Than Nothing House?

FYI: There are only a few more days until the Congress of these United States takes off for the August vacation.  If they’d like to catch up on the legislation actually enacted — or even voted on — best they hurry.  Here’s what a quick chart looks like of the 113th:

Congress Calendar Legislation

Even Speaker Dennis Hastert got more to the floor during the 109th than Speaker John Boehner has managed thus far.

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Heller Rides (His Hobby Horse) Again

Hobby HorseThe U.S. Senate voted Tuesday evening on a cloture motion to stop the Republican filibuster of H.R. 4660, (Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015 ) and the cloture motion was agreed to on a 95-3 vote.  The three Republicans voting to sustain the filibuster?  Paul (R-KY), Lee (R-UT), and Nevada’s own Dean Heller (R-NV). [roll call 200]

And, why might he have done this? Perhaps we have the answer in the following statement posted to Senator Heller’s web site:

“U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) has filed “No Budget, No Pay” as an amendment to the CJS Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4660).  The Heller No Budget, No Pay Amendment calls on Congress to adopt legislation requiring passage of a yearly budget and all twelve appropriations bills each fiscal year in order to receive pay.”

This particular hobby horse is a favorite toy for the Senator.   However,  proposal comes with a bit of a problem for the Constitution First Crowd — it’s unconstitutional.  See the 27th Amendment: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”   And, while the proposition has a lovely tinkly sound for fiscal conservatives it is no more grounded in reality than Tinker Bell.

In an article speaking for the ethereal proposal, former Comptroller General David Walker inadvertently included the core of the problem for the No Labels folk: “Congress has only passed spending bills on time four times since 1952. The last time Congress passed both a concurrent budget resolution and all required spending bills on time was 1996.” [Politico]  And, there’s another historical problem:

“In four of the last five election years in which the Republicans held at least partial control of Congress (1998, 2002, 2004 and 2006), they didn’t pass a budget resolution. That includes three years in which Republicans controlled both chambers.” [WaPo 2012]

There’s some irony in a Republican proposal to “solve” a problem created by … Republicans.  What might we call an unconstitutional, ahistorical, and flimsy proposal which is full of “sound and fury signifying nothing?”  The usual label is Grandstanding.

The idea has a lovely ring on the hustings, makes for great sound bite fodder, but as evidenced by the underwhelming support received by Senator Heller during vote #200, it has about Zilch chance of passage.

 

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Back to Not Working: The Know Nothing Congress

Today the House of Representatives gets back to “work.”  Not that they have much planned, but the Congress critters will be in session, with votes not taken until after 6:30 pm.

The American Jobs Act has been sitting dormant since it was called H.R. 12 back in 2011, and failed to break a Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate. Rep. Frederika Wilson reintroduced the measure in July 2013. However, this bill will not be considered by the House this week, instead we have:

H.R. 4192, “to amend the Act entitled “An Act to regulate the height of buildings in the District of Columbia” to clarify the rules of the District of Columbia regarding human occupancy of penthouses above the top story of the building upon which the penthouse is placed.” [Cantor]  The National Capitol Planning Commission recommended that no modifications be made the in the Height of Buildings Act of 1910, to preserve the architectural character of the nation’s capital, in the ‘federal city.’ The Commission also recommended that vistas, such as those around the Capitol and the White House should be maintained.  Rep. Darryl Issa (R-Benghazi) wants to amend the statute…. No points will be given for correct guesses as to why the old law should be amended or who wants to change the law.   However, someone wants this, badly enough to have the bill hit Chr. Issa’s committee on March 11, 2014 and be reported out with a do pass recommendation on March 12.

Or, the House of Representatives could take up the Employment Non Discrimination Act.  But then, we’ve known since January that Rep. Boehner had no intention of bringing this legislation up for a vote:

Boehner’s remarks reveal that he will most likely not schedule ENDA, which would provide antidiscrimination protections for LGBT workers nationwide, for a vote on the House floor in 2014. Last April the act had easily passed in the Senate with a vote of 64-32. But in November Boehner voiced his belief that ENDA was “unnecessary.” [Advocate]

OK, if they aren’t going to take up ENDA or the American Jobs Act, how about Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

Nupe, another one of Rep. Issa’s bills H.R. 4194 – The Government Reports Elimination Act, as amended is headed to the floor.  The reports to be eliminated?

The Department of Agriculture’s Unfair Trade Practices Report; the annual report on farmland protection; data collection on peanut production; data compilations related to the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008.  Also eliminated would be reports on the pilot program for beginning farmers and ranchers, and the rural broadband access program.  Nor would we see a quarterly report on the Commodity Credit Corporation. And, Congress would not be interested in a report on Plant Pest and Disease Management or from the Dept. of Agriculture on Export Assistance programs.

The Department of Commerce would no longer file public reports on the TIP activities of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology.  TIP, by the way, is the Technology Innovation Program, the budget for which was slashed in 2012. [FAS pdf] Issue was taken with the TIP program, intended to promote small businesses,  because large corporations were ineligible to receive grants from the Department of Commerce.

The Department of Defense would no longer report on (1) annual budget requirements for air sovereignty alert missions; (2) annual reports on the reliability of DoD financial statements; (3) assistance given to foreign governments to account for missing U.S. service personnel; (4) inclusion of net floor area in requests to build military family housing.

The Department of Education would no longer file a report with Congress (and the public) on impact aid construction justifying discretionary grant awards.

The Department of Energy would no longer report on the Science and Engineering Education pilot project, and the Strategic Unconventional Fuels Development Program.

And here’s a kicker ….

The Environmental Protection Agency would no longer report the Great Lakes Management comprehensive publication pertaining to Section 118(c) 10 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

It’s when we get to the GAO report eliminations that the pattern gets ever more clear — GAO would no longer report: (1) local expenditures for public schools; (2) how ARRA funds were spent by states and localities, (3) there would be no audit of the Help America Vote Act, (4)  there would be no report of the audit of the state small business credit initiative; (5) there would be no audit report of the Small Business Lending Fund program; (6) and no publication of the Housing Assistance Council Financial statement and audit report.  (Another assault on rural America?)

There is also a bit of gamesmanship with the ACA and Patient’s Bill of Rights in the GAO section which deserves individual consideration.

Representative Issa and Company aren’t interested in hearing from the Department of Homeland Security about (1) the importation of foreign products manufactured with dog or cat hair, or (2) the infrastructure for port of entry or land border security plans; or (3) the modernization of the national distress and response system.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development wouldn’t be required to report on the (1) IT spending plan and (2) sole source funding contracts.

The Department of the Interior would not be required to file reports on the Energy Policy Act 2005 42 U.S.C. 15902(e).  And what might we guess are the subjects of 42 U.S.C. 15902(e)Reports of in kind royalties for oil and gas.  What a lovely gift to the oil and gas giants?

The Department of Labor would no longer have to trouble itself about the implementation of the Older Americans Act, those reports would be eliminated, as would be reports on the Andean Trade Preference Act.

The National Intelligence agency wouldn’t have to report on the treaty on conventional armed forces in Europe, reports on commerce with Cuba, the identification of countries of concern about the diversion of certain goods to Iran, and the State Department would no longer have to file reports on non-proliferation in south Asia or Tibet negotiations.

The Department of Transportation would eliminate reports from the Air Traffic Services Committee, they would no longer compile reports summarizing airport finances, nor would the department produce its annual report on pipeline safety information grants to communities.    There would be no more annual reports on pilot programs for financing air traffic control equipment, and no annual reports concerning standards for aircraft engines to reduce noise levels.

The Department of the Treasury would no longer provide the public with information on the North American Development Bank via its annual reports to Congress, and we’d not get reports on voting on international financial institutional loans.  What could possibly go wrong?  Congress would not receive reports on IMF arrangements regarding rates and maturities.   But wait, there’s more from the —

Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which would not provide reports on activities and proposals involving contracting for performance by contractor personnel of work previously performed by Department personnel — translation: If the outsourcing or privatization of Department activities isn’t working we’re not going to know about it because the Department isn’t required to report to Congress about it?  Nor will we know about procurement of medical and health care items for veterans, nor about nurse staffing levels, nor about how well the VA is doing in terms of retaining experienced nurses and other personnel.

In short, what H.R. 4194 offers is a legislative branch in willful ignorance. There’s are reasons Congresses in the past have required departmental reporting — to facilitate auditing, to guarantee performance, to assure the proper allocation of funds, to promote compliance — all which are negated by the provisions of H.R. 4194.

No ENDA, no Comprehensive Immigration Reform, no American Jobs Act…. but Congress appears to have plenty of time to consider making itself even  less well informed.  And, because most of these reports are made available to journalists and the public — the rest of us too.

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Filed under Politics, Republicans

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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