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Monday, April 30, 2012

The 112th Congress: another “Do-Nothing” Congress?

It never ceases to amaze me (and even to amuse me in a perverse way), that Congressional Republicans keep getting away with blaming the President for their lack of legislative ability and action.  Has someone failed to educate the members in terms of the constitutional separation of powers by which the Congress has been given the total responsibility for passing legislation?  Whatever the President may propose, it is the Congress that has the ultimate responsibility for making laws, producing budgets, and passing resolutions.  The Executive has no part, except proposal and persuasion, in that process.

So, it behooves every voter to be diligent in understanding what Congress has, and has not, done in terms of legislating.  Let’s take that Republican claim that the President is responsible for there not being a full budget.  That is simply foolishness.  The Congress has that responsibility, not the President, and all that can be said is that the Congress has failed to do its duty.  Let’s take a brief look at two budgetary crises that took place during this 112th Congress, according to a summary by Wikipedia.

First, a failure to pass a 2011 Federal Budget nearly led to a shutdown of non-essential government services on April 9, 2011, with the furlough of 800,000 government employees imminent. President Obama met Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner preceding the deadline but was unable to come to an agreement with them as to a budget.  A one-week budget was proposed to avoid a government shutdown and allow more time for negotiations; however, proposals from both parties could not be accommodated. Obama said he would veto a proposed Republican budget with draconian social spending cuts. This was also backed by Senate Democrats who objected to such cuts as that of Planned Parenthood. However, an agreement was reached between the two parties for a one-week budget to allow for more time to negotiate after Republicans dropped their stance on the Planned Parenthood issue. The two parties ultimately agreed on a 2011 federal budget the following week.

Second, on August 2, 2011, the United States Public Debt was projected to reach its statutory maximum. Without an increase in that limit, the U.S. Treasury would be unable to borrow money to pay its bills. Although previous statutory increases had been routine, conservative members of the House refused to allow an increase without drastic reductions in government spending. Over several weeks and months, negotiators from both parties, both houses, and the White House worked to forge a compromise. The compromise bill, the Budget Control Act of 2011, was enacted on August 2.

We must keep in mind the importance of the kind of legislation that a Congress ends up passing.  It is a major measure of the effectiveness of a particular Congress.  In regard to the 112th Congress, there is not much of a case to be made for their effectiveness.  Rather, the case can easily be made that this Congress has failed the American people by the paucity of its considerations and the puny outcomes of legislative action.  Because Republicans have basically spent a majority of their time trying to show the President in a bad light, the result has been a lack of strong legislation which could positively affect the lives and the well-being of the majority of Americans.  Here from a Wikipedia article are the major Acts of the 112th Congress.  Besides the budgetary items already mentioned, there are three trade agreement implementation Acts and three items that President Obama proposed.
 
April 15, 2011: 2011 United States federal budget (as Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011), Pub.L. 112-10
August 2, 2011: Budget Control Act of 2011, Pub.L. 112-25
September 16, 2011: Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, Pub.L. 112-29 (The law represents the most significant change to the U.S. patent system since 1952, and closely resembles previously proposed legislation in the Senate in its previous session)
October 21, 2011: United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act, Pub.L. 112-41
October 21, 2011: United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement Implementation Act, Pub.L. 112-42
October 21, 2011: United States-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement Implementation Act, Pub.L. 112-43
February 22, 2012: Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, Pub.L. 112-96 (The bill included the following
Extends Medicare payments to doctors giving seniors the advantage to keep their doctors.
Extends the two percent Social Security payroll tax cut
Extends unemployment benefits
Repeals part of PPACA that does not work and would lead to problems in the future
Expands FEMA aid
Extends temporary assistance for needy families (TANF)
Extends job incentives to small businesses
Improves work search for the long unemployed
April 4, 2012: Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 (STOCK Act), Pub.L. 112-105 (S. 2038) (Provisions Of The Bill Include:
Prohibition Of The Use Of NonPublic Information For Private Profit
Prohibition Of Insider Trading
Confirming Changes To The Commodity Exchange Act
The Banning Of Congressional And Governmental Insider Trading
Prompt Reporting Of Financial Transactions
Overseers On Any Crime Relating To Bill Not Being Followed
(JOBS April 5, 2012: Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act Act), Pub.L. 112-106 (H.R. 3606)  (President Obama unveiled the Startup America Initiative on January 31, 2011, which over the course of a year came to recommend different reforms aimed at increasing small businesses' ability to raise capital, by easing various securities regulations. It passed with bipartisan support)

These major legislative acts would not have passed without at least a modicum of bi-partisan agreement, proving that the two parties can find ways to work together.  Nonetheless, the paucity is somewhat overwhelming.

One other measure of what a particular Congress is trying to accomplish, is the major legislation that was proposed, but not ultimately made into law.  Here is where we obtain an inside look at what the Republican right-wing - mainly in the House - is trying to foist upon the American people.  Without a Democratic Senate to cut off consideration, or Democratic President to veto, the following would actually have become laws of the land; a frightening thought to contemplate.  This is the kind of thing we face if there is a Republican President and at the least, a Republican House and/or Senate.

Proposed
Cut, Cap and Balance Act, H.R. 2560

(put forward  by Republicans during the 2011 U.S. debt ceiling crisis. The provisions of the bill included a cut in the total amount of federal government spending, a cap on the level of future spending as a percentage of GDP, and certain changes to the U.S. Constitution.  The bill had the support of Republicans and much of the Tea Party.)

And, guess what?  Mitt Romney has picked up this “Cut, Cap and Balance” mantra and is proposing the following:
Immediately move to cut spending and then cap it at 20 percent of GDP.  He expects to seek caps to be set even lower
He will immediately cut non-security discretionary spending by 5%, with more being required to bring the budget “under control.”
Enact entitlement reform by raising the eligibility age for social security, but not by raising the payroll tax or expanding the base of income to which the tax is applied.  Romney will also push for the devolvement of Medicaid through block grants to the states.
Reduce the federal workforce by 10 percent (thereby raising the percentage of the unemployed), and then another 10% through attrition (by hiring one for every two that leave).
Require a super-majority for any tax hike
Pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution (without any mention of the constitutional check of a Line-item Veto amendment)

No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, H.R. 3
(The bill's stated purpose is "[t]o prohibit taxpayer funded abortions and to provide for conscience protections, and for other purposes."  In large measure, it would render permanent the restrictions on federal funding of abortion in the United States laid out in the Hyde Amendment)

 Protect Life Act, H.R. 358 
(Bans the use of federal funds to cover any costs of any health care plan that covers abortions.  Requires any entity offering, through a federal exchange, a health care plan that covers abortions to also offer an otherwise identical one that does not cover abortions.  Prohibits government agencies from "discriminating" against health care providers who refuse to undergo, require, provide, or refer for training to perform abortions)

Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, H.R. 2
(would repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the health care-related text of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010)

Stop Online Piracy Act, H.R. 3261
(introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions included the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison.  Failed because of opposition to government control of the internet)

Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, H.R. 3523
(Amends the National Security Act of 1947 to add provisions concerning cyber threat intelligence and information sharing. Defines "cyber threat intelligence" as information in the possession of an element of the intelligence community directly pertaining to a vulnerability of, or threat to, a system or network of a government or private entity - another very recent attempt to control internet sources; opposed by the Executive branch)

Newser.com mentions a Los Angeles Times article that commented on this record: “The Los Angeles Times takes stock of the accomplishments of the 112th Congress, and it isn't pretty: This Congress ‘is on pace to be one of the least productive in recent memory—as measured by votes taken, bills made into laws, nominees approved,’ writes Kathleen Hennessey. It's behind even what Harry Truman called the ‘do-nothing Congress’ of 1948, along with the group consumed with impeaching Bill Clinton.”  According to OpenCongress.org, here are a few more choice items that were recently introduced in the House:

H.R.3310 - Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act of 2011
To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to consolidate the reporting obligations of the Federal Communications Commission in order to improve ...
H.R.4089 - Recreational Shooting Protection Act 
To protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing and shooting.
H.R.4040
To provide for the award of a gold medal on behalf of Congress to Jack Nicklaus in recognition of his service to the Nation in promoting excel...
H.R.3001 - Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Act
To award a Congressional Gold Medal to Raoul Wallenberg, in recognition of his achievements and heroic actions during the Holocaust.
H.R.3263 - Lake Thunderbird Efficient Use Act of 2011
To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to allow the storage and conveyance of non-project water at the Norman project in Oklahoma
Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act of 2011-H.R.23
To amend title 38, United States Code, to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish the Merchant Mariner Equity Compensation Fund to provide benefits to certain individuals who served in the United States merchant marine (including the Army Transport Service and the Naval Transport Service) during World War II
Fair Tax Act - H.R. 25
To promote freedom, fairness, and economic opportunity by repealing the income tax and other taxes, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, and enacting a national sales tax to be administered primarily by the States

Finally, there are those Acts which were proposed (mainly by the President), but defeated by the Republican majority in the House or by a cloture vote requiring a super-majority in the Senate.  In either case, the Republicans were successful in blocking legislation that they opposed, mainly because it would be seen as a victory for the President.  The shame of these tactics is that a victory for the American people, or a segment thereof, was also denied.  And that is the basic tragedy:  when Congress does not fulfill its role, the social consequences for the citizenry are multiplied.  This Congress has not only failed to pass much meaningful legislation, it has consistently blocked the possibility of passing major legislation that is both needed and efficacious.  For instance:

The American Jobs Act (S. 1549) (H. Doc. 112-53) and (H.R. 12)
(bills proposed by President Barack Obama in a nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress on September 8, 2011. He characterized it as non-controversial measures designed to get Americans back to work, and he repeatedly urged Congress to pass the bill "right away"; he also said that the bill would not add to the national deficit and would be fully paid for).  Some of its elements included:

Cutting and suspending $245 billion worth of payroll taxes for qualifying employers and 160 million medium to low income employees.
Spending $62 billion for a Pathways Back to Work Program for expanding opportunities for low-income youth and adults.
Extending unemployment benefits for up to 6 million long-term beneficiaries Jobs tax credit for the long term unemployed.
Pathways back to work fund.
Spending $50 billion on both new & pre-existing infrastructure projects.
Spending $35 billion in additional funding to protect the jobs of teachers, police officers, and firefighters
Spending $30 billion to modernize at least 35,000 public schools and community colleges.
Spending $15 billion on a program that would hire construction workers to help rehabilitate and refurbishing hundreds of thousands of foreclosed homes and businesses.

Perhaps the worst of this inanity is that most Congressmen believe they are doing the best they can for the “American people.”   What the people believe - at least the polls say so --is that Congress is corrupt, and ineffective.  Ratings of Congress are at the lowest levels they have ever been.  These lists of legislation passed, or at least introduced, do not inspire confidence.  It is past time to turn out incumbents that fail to perform; that fail to reform; that fail to form a vision for America’s future,  We must have no tolerance for men and women controlled by special interests, big money, political careers that span many years, and lucrative careers after office-holding is done.  

We don’t need, and can’t endure, another “do-nothing” Congress!