Report Card for Congress, 2013: Incredibly Inefficient but Not Lazy

Congressional dysfunction is caused by a political culture in which members are on edge about appearing cordial with colleagues with whom they disagree

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Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Speaker of the House John Boehner addresses the Congress in the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 3, 2013

People of all stripes have more than enough to dislike about the performance of the modern Congress. The Gang of 535, who are returning only today from Thanksgiving recess for only five days in chambers together before leaving for the year, are too partisan and inefficient. But regardless of the fact that they were in session only 126 days in 2013, there one thing that America’s Senators and Representatives are, on the whole, decidedly not.

Lazy.

You don’t get to be a member of Congress by sleeping till noon and bingeing on Parenthood and The Simpsons. Anybody who has ever been on a campaign trail for a few days or sat in a congressional office for more than 15 minutes knows that these people are, almost without exception, workaholics of extraordinary stamina. When they’re not in session, they’re in meetings, being briefed, raising money, speaking to reporters and holding town halls.

Still, the notion of a Congress of slackers persists largely because the world’s most powerful legislative body hasn’t done much legislating of late. Even as reforms related to immigration, gun ownership, personal privacy and military sexual assault weigh heavily on the American mind, Congress can’t even agree on whether to name an ugly mountain in Vegas for Ronald Reagan. They’ve passed just 55 bills into law so far in 2013, on track to easily be less productive than the 88 shoved through in the post–World War II low-watermark year of 1995. With little exception, these facts are noted alongside another seemingly related data point, that Congress was “off” more than 230 days out of the year, depending on the chamber. The 2014 calendar, as issued by House majority leader Eric Cantor, has even fewer days in session scheduled.

(MORE: Don’t Look Now: The Do-Nothing Congress Is About to Get Stuff Done)

One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. This is a Congress at loggerheads on everything important. That’s how we, as an American electorate, made them. It’s a systemic issue, one that hopefully a few more elections and perhaps some redistricting can wring out, not having them sit in their fancy chambers talking past one another more.

D.C. dysfunction isn’t caused by the number of days they’re in session. It’s caused by the harsh, vituperous political culture in which members are on edge about appearing even cordial with colleagues with whom they disagree. The former Republican National Committee chair Frank Fahrenkopf, whose biography I am working on, often tells me the root of the problem is that most members go home most weekends and thus don’t bother to socialize or get to know their philosophical sparring partners as human beings. That, more than the weeks of recess all over the calendar, explains the mistrust and hostility that has led to inertia.

Fahrenkopf was no political weakling. He led the GOP for six years in the 1980s, engaging in hand-to-hand combat as the mastermind behind Reagan’s re-election. Even so, he also became lifelong personal friends and frequent collaborator with his counterpart, the Democratic National Committee chair Chuck Manatt. Manatt’s family even asked Fahrenkopf to eulogize him when he died in 2011. Can you imagine Maxine Waters and Ted Cruz even grabbing a latte together? Instead of clamoring for more days in session, maybe we should be gunning for mandatory coffee breaks where Congressmen and Congresswomen on either side of the aisle actually have to make small talk with one another.

3 comments
mssgkatz
mssgkatz

The Old New Social Evil... REPUBLICANS!

If the Republicans have their way America will go down in flames. The tender will be provided by all the destruction their policies will (and do) cause. They will willfully toss our All-American carcass into the burning flames (actually they will get someone else to do it- a hired hand probably) while they go back to the mansion on the hill and complain about the wafting smoke from barbecue blocking their view. Then have the police arrest you (the survivors) for disturbing the peace-and you will go-to-jail: remember that's been privatized too, and they will make more money off your hide and try to keep you there forever you moneymaker. It's called "free labor... Servitude... The new chattel slavery," and they want us all in it, 100% participation and doing all they can to get it that way.

I am terrified and you should be too, knowing the lengths crazy rich white men have gone to, in America's troubled past, to maintain their loop-sided advantage and sense of superiority. It should be easy to see their craziness- they leave so many clues. And these days, they are blatantly strangling our American carcass to death all the while telling us ''It's ok, you can trust me, I'm with you"- only to find them pulling the rug out from under you while preaching that it’s for your own good. You don't have to believe me. Don't take my word for it. Just look at who's taking your house or out sourced your job. Hell, in a minute you won't even be able to vote if they get their way. Which brings me to my point: What will happen if you let them go unchecked, if you keep on going around with these blinders on trying not to get involved? Read a new book called “Blue-Y” by O.D. Wells, it lays out just what it will look like in all its horrific detail. That newest Batman movie comes to my mind too, where you get to see what they went through. Yeah, yeah I know, it's just a movie- right! The future it ascribes does not go well for the rich and affluent. Based simply on what they (crazy rich white men) had already done in the past (both recent and historically) and that beckons that I recognize that I'm/we're being set-up, ripped off, played for the fool, by wealthy professional con artist, snake-oil salesman, flem-flam-men, grifters, crooks, thieves, lying ass criminals ... trying to pick the American pocket again cause they (Republicans) sees middle class and poor Americans as an easy mark to rob. It's no wonder too; they've pulled this one many times before and know it to work. It's a tried and true technique and all their friends know the steps well. I am scared, really scared. Scared that we won't be able to stop them again because they keep on using their great wealth and influence to advance their cause of keeping us under their foot, keeping us in bondage until they can get us in chains. I know what the Indians and Africans must have felt like now, watching all they have get taken away and there was nothing they could do about it. Wake up (white) America. Get it together, and get it together quickly or you too will loose it all. Speaking as someone who does not have a lot myself, I still don't want to loose the little I have either. So lets get together and work this out. And understand clearly: What’s good for Black Americans is good for all Americans. So get over yourselves and get with the country. Someone's out to get us America, and they’re wealthy white men that don’t like color, women, or the poor. Lets start by getting them out of our legislature because they are evil, and you know it! 

EmilioDeLuigi
EmilioDeLuigi

The champions of mummification are in Italy, where the parasitic political class has reached legendary record levels, first of all in corruption. The poor Italians have tried to react creating a Movement headed by a former comedian, Beppe Grillo. Because of that, most of the politicians have been exposed. Facebook and Twitter are their main, precious tools. Americans should move in the same direction. By the way, needless to say I am of Italian origin.

KathleenKircher
KathleenKircher

congressional republicans and tea baggers should be in the unemployment line and receiving food stamps