The Do Nothing Congress

There is an infamous picture of President Truman holding up a Chicago Tribune which read “Dewey Defeats Truman” in the 1948 presidential election. Truman actually won that election against the odds and polling by going on a nationwide tour blaming congress for failing to act on his agenda and therefore were to blame for the nations woes.

Between 1947 and 1948, the lazy do nothing 80th congress passed 906 bills. Compare that to our current 112th congress that between 2011 and 2012 passed just 220 bills. This is the product of the partisan gridlock that has become the norm in our government. There is usually a consensus in the beltway and in mainstream america that the two sides are equally to blame. To the optimist it’s just two sides not budging, and if they can just yield and get along, we will be able to get things done.

This is fiction. I know anyone blaming one side or the other seems biased and partisan on its own, but the party to blame is quite clear when you look at how negotiations are conducted. John Boehner has been a total failure as Speaker of the House. He can barely rally his caucus to pass his own bills like his own solution to the fiscal cliff, and has often had his own bills defeated by the more radical elements of the party when called to a vote. The Republicans have made obstructionism routine, both in the House with their majority, and in the Senate where they have made unprecedented use of the filibuster to block almost everything.

These are the same congressional Republicans that made a fight over the debt ceiling-the agreement to pay what we already agreed to pay, which cost the U.S. its AAA credit rating. They threaten to default the U.S. and send us into cataclysm if their demands for austerity are not met. Not to mention they likely stalled the U.S. recovery by starving it of investments and funding. A large problem is also that house districts are horribly gerrymandered. Over 49% of the voters going to the polls voted for Democrats in the House compared to 48% for Republicans, yet the Republicans only lost a few seats and still maintain a safe majority. While that alone doesn’t necessarily mean much, figures that since the Republicans tailored the districts to make them safer for re-election , there are only 35 House districts out of the 435 that are still competitive seats after the 2010 redistricting. Democrats would have needed to win the 2012 election by more than 7% in the popular vote to achieve majority in the House. So fixing the gridlock is going to be nearly impossible through the electoral process. We need election reform. No nation pretending to be as righteous as we do should function so poorly as a democracy.

And what we need is for an understanding that the desire for an unbiased and centrist view of American politics needs to be shadowed by the truth, which is that our political problems are much more the fault of one side.

But cheer up, for today we bid farewell to the do nothing 112th congress. I wish I could say something positive about the 113th congress,  which will likely be just as dysfunctional with Boehner as speaker of the House once again, holding the nation’s issues hostage as he kicks and screams until he gets his way.

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