Washington Memo: Congress, party of three
America’s founders never wanted our political system to be too fast moving, but it was never intended to be downright dysfunctional. The past three years of gridlock and political posturing have been disastrous. I shook my head as the last Congress – the 112th – nearly let the government shut down and led to the lowering of America’s credit rating. The 112th wasted time on unnecessary and unproductive legislation and, all told, passed just 220 public laws, by far the fewest of any U.S. Congress in recorded history. Not even the “do-nothing Congress,” the aptly-named 80th Congress during President Truman’s tenure, did so little.
The 112th Congress is now gone, but its troubles remain in this year’s 113th Congress. The country faces a number of major challenges. Unemployment is at 7.6 percent. Climate change rages on, education costs are spiraling out of control, and Medicare and Social Security need our attention. These are just a few of the things this Congress should work on, but they won’t.
Unfortunately, the 113th Congress is on pace to be the least productive Congress in history. Eight months in, just 22 bills have become public law. And so far this year, House leadership has forced through a series of partisan and irresponsible bills that are doomed to fail in the Senate. If enacted, these bills would hurt the economy, make it harder for middle class families to earn a living, and would recklessly cut needed investments in education, scientific research, infrastructure, and more.
In the past few months, the House has passed a number of go-nowhere bills intended to push a political agenda, instead of improving the lives of everyday Americans. This includes bills like H.R. 2231, which would require the Department of the Interior to issue new leases each year for offshore oil drilling almost everywhere, including off the Atlantic coast – a risky proposition that would endanger New Hampshire’s economy and coastal environment.
Last month, the House passed its version of a farm bill but intentionally left out funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps or SNAP). USA Today said, “The House bill retains lavish subsidies for an agriculture sector that is doing much better than many other parts of the economy – so lavish that they make a mockery of House Republicans’ attempts at cost cutting.”
In early July, the House majority also forced through an education reform bill that managed to garner opposition from both teachers’ unions and the chamber of commerce, as unlikely a pairing as you’ll ever find.
What’s the reason for all this dysfunction? I believe it’s because there are essentially three parties in the House: Democrats, Republicans and the Tea Party.
Reasonable Democrats and reasonable Republicans would like to compromise, but the Tea Party thinks any negotiation is unacceptable, and Speaker John Boehner will not bring any bills to a vote unless a majority of his majority agree.
This creates paralysis as important deadlines approach and pass without action from Congress. Now there’s a new deadline approaching – the 2013 debt ceiling – and Tea Party Republicans are again threatening to throw our nation into default unless other Republicans and Democrats cave to their demands.
Hopefully, at some point, we can get back to a political process where we debate issues and pursue our country’s priorities without using economic devastation as a bargaining chip. I have a great deal of faith that the American people will not tolerate this breakdown for much longer.
I still believe both parties can work together to pass responsible, balanced legislation – bills that don’t necessarily make everyone happy, but address real problems facing real people and don’t harm our economy. I see some light coming through the cracks. I recently worked with my colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee, widely known as one of the most bipartisan committees in Congress, to develop and pass the National Defense Authorization Act.
Eliminating sequestration, improving our aging infrastructure, strengthening our education system and reforming our tax code so multinational corporations pay their fair share and working families aren’t forced to pay more are all common sense steps to strengthen the middle class: these policies all deserve a vote on the floor.
It is time to stop wasting hours upon hours on unnecessary bills that hurt the middle class and start working to create jobs and invest in America’s future. People are waiting, and their patience is running out.
(Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represents New Hampshire’s 1st District.)