This Year In Congress: Much Drama, Little To Show | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

This Year In Congress: Much Drama, Little To Show

Play associated audio

Congress got plenty of attention this year, but it was for all the wrong reasons.

There were at least three countdowns to shutdown, there was the debt-limit fight, plus the will-they-or-won't-they drama earlier in December over the payroll tax holiday. Looking at how few bills were actually signed into law this year, one might conclude this session was mostly sizzle and not much steak.

"I mean, I knew it was going to be bad this year, but I didn't realize like how bad it was," says Tobin Grant, an associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University.

Grant developed an index to measure Congress' productivity. After looking at the numbers, he says this Congress is on pace to be the least productive since the '80s — not the 1980s, but the 1880s.

Grant says he'd consider very few of the 80 bills signed into law so far this session to be major legislation.

Multiple bills continue funding that had already been ongoing. Others, he says, include "taking a bold stance in favor of 9/11 heroes and autism" with the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act and the Fallen Heroes of 9/11 Act. Congress also passed 10 resolutions naming post offices.

Now, this is the first of a two-year Congress, and the first year is always less productive. This one, though, has been especially unproductive.

In 2011, Congress did pass the Deficit Reduction Act, three free-trade bills and a patent-reform measure. However, much of its time was spent racing against those countdown clocks, passing short-term extensions to keep the government open for business and fighting right up to the brink over matters that in the past have been routine.

"When you're dealing at this level with issues that are so polarizing, they will basically suck all the oxygen out of both chambers," says Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers.

A spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says having so few bills signed into law isn't a problem: "Good governance is not measured by the tally of bills passed or the expansion of the federal government, but by the quality of the legislation," she said.

Meanwhile, the House has complained all year that the Democrat-controlled Senate won't take up the bills it does pass.

Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says there's something more at play here when it comes to House Republicans.

"They will brook no compromise to their principles," he says.

Mann prides himself on being a nonpartisan analyst, but he says this year blame for congressional dysfunction isn't equally divided between the two parties. The Republican Party, he says, "has become just adamant about taking hostages and making nonnegotiable demands."

Mann says the goal, once stated quite bluntly by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is denying President Obama a second term.

"Everything in the legislative process is part of a permanent campaign. It's no longer just a tussle. It's an all-out war," Mann says.

This year wasn't even an election year, which means people may want to temper their expectations for congressional productivity in 2012.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

After A Ho-Hum Summer, Hollywood Ramps Up For Fall

Until Guardians of the Galaxy came along, this year's box office figures were the worst in years. But critic Bob Mondello says there are bound to be some fall films that get pulses pounding again.
NPR

These 5 Crops Are Still Hand-Harvested, And It's Hard Work

Saffron, vanilla, palm oil, cacao and cottonseed oil are still picked by hand in some parts of the world. Sometimes that manual labor shows up in the price of the food; sometimes it doesn't.
NPR

Eric Cantor Joins Wall Street Investment Bank

Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is joining the boutique investment bank Moelis & Company. The Virginia Republican was unexpectedily defeated in a June primary.
NPR

Why Do We Blindly Sign Terms Of Service Agreements?

Audie Cornish talks with University of Chicago Law School professor Omri Ben-Shahar about terms of service agreements for software and websites.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.