Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Doing nothing and proud of it

 President Harry Truman in the 1948 elections denounced the 80th Congress by sticking it with the moniker “the do-nothing Congress.” This was despite that body having both passed the Marshall Plan and established the Department of Defense. By the standards of the 112th Congress, whose two-year run just ended, Truman’s do-nothing 80th looks like the quintessential efficient, effective productive government.

The 112th Congress, which served during 2011 and 2012, enacted the smallest number of laws in modern history. It brought us the debt limit debacle, with its first-ever downgrade of the credit rating of the United States. The Congress began work in 2011 by having members read the Constitution. It named a few post offices but crafted practically no legislation. The Republicans, with a majority led by the Boehner/Cantor team in the House and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate, will be remembered for their one publically admitted goal—the defeat of President Obama in 2012. They didn’t even get that done.

The 112th specialized in avoiding particularly troublesome issues rather than trying to do something about them. The congressmen worried that those who had suffered through earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and floods were being helped too much. The 112th seldom concerned itself with the needs of children or poor families, with the work of the National Institutes of Health or with health and safety standards that make both workers and customers secure and the public safer. No matter that there is national concern over mass shootings. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has not had a director in six years because the Congress has refused to confirm one, once again doing nothing and proud of it.

Presidents have the right to name officials and judges who are then to be considered and approved or rejected by vote of legislators. Because of the 231 Republican filibusters since President Obama took office, as well as parliamentary often-secret holds on those nominations, roughly one of every eight federal judgeships currently remain vacant.

One day into the new 113th Congress, not a week nor a fortnight nor a month, the Republicans are already threatening to shut down the government rather than spending any time seeking solutions to government budget problems. This group seems as proud as its predecessors of doing nothing. After all, there must be a post office out there somewhere to name.

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