2011: Congress’ least-productive year (Whoopee?)

The Washington Times had an interesting article yesterday, about how Congress did very little work last year. It’s a hoot to read:

It’s official: Congress ended its least-productive year in modern history after passing 80 bills — fewer than during any other session since year-end records began being kept in 1947.

Furthermore, an analysis by The Washington Times of the scope of such activities as time spent in debate, number of conference reports produced and votes taken on the House andSenate floors found that Congress set a record for legislative futility by accomplishing less in 2011 than any other year in history.

The Senate’s record was weakest by a huge margin, according to the futility index, and the House had its 10th-worst session on record.

Futility index? Have they copyrighted that? (I hope not, with SOPA coming down the pipeline…)


Of the bills the 112th Congress did pass, the majority were housekeeping measures, such as naming post office buildings or extending existing laws. Sometimes, it was too difficult for the two chambers to hammer out agreements. More often, the Senate failed to reach agreement within the chamber.

That left much of the machinery of the federal government on autopilot, with the exception of spending, where monumental clashes dominated the legislative session.

Oh, and uh, another minor, housekeeping bill, that they left out…the National Defense Authorization Act, which, uh, you know, did the whole housekeeping thing of letting the military lock up any citizen without a trial or due process indefinitely.

The Times sure has a funny way of defining “housekeeping.”

I’m actually for a “futile” Congress, since a Congress that passes a great many bills invariably encroaches on civil liberties and individual freedom. Unless it was a magical Congress led by the Libertarian Twinkly-Dinkly Fairy as Speaker that passed an amazing number of bills to shrink, defund, and otherwise limit government, breaking records for passing bills is not something anyone should be proud of.

Many get confused over the proper role of Congress. It is not solely to pass laws, it is to pass good laws, for the proper functioning of the government. In many cases, a law is not actually required, though the politicians have duped the public over the past century into thinking that a law is always required. Now that belongs on the New York Times bestseller fiction list.

Of course, last year, they went for quality over quantity.

A few other points to consider:


In 2011, the Senate ranked poorly on all the measures relating to bills and was in the lower half on votes and pages in the record. The only yardstick by which it performed well was on time spent in session, where it logged more than 1,100 hours — slightly better than the median.

Combining those rankings gave the Senate a futility score of 70, or 19 points lower than the Senate’s record of 89 established in 2008.

The House record was more mixed. It spent more time in session than all but 10 other congresses, compiled the eighth highest number of pages of debate and took more floor votes than all but two other congresses. But it passed the fewest number of bills in its history and had fewer bills signed by the president than any other Congress and shared the same poor performance on conference reports.

Combining those rankings gave the House a futility score of 144, making it 10th worst.

So the Senate is far more futile than the House. When you recognize that the Senate, run by Democrats, has failed to pass a budget in—how long is it, now? Two years or so?—this doesn’t surprise you whatsoever. Neither Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) nor Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) have done anything, both going for politics and theatrics. I think more blame is to be had for Reid, honestly, as leader of the majority party; he’s failed to pass any budget, like I said, for about two years, in an effort to stymie House Republicans and have a chance to call them “obstructionist.” Leaving out the fact that, yeah, that’s kinda how democracy works, it appears that Senate Democrats are the ones who are really being “obstructionist.”

Yet another:


Some conservatives have argued that less activity in Washington is good because it means the government isn’t imposing new rules or creating more programs.

But with so much spending wrapped up in entitlement programs, Congress doesn’t need to be in session for government to grow automatically in many areas.

Last year’s fights were focused chiefly on the budget, spending and taxes. The House took hundreds of votes on spending bills during the early-year debate on the overdue fiscal 2011 measures and again throughout the summer when it debated the 2012 bills.

This is the real scary part. When we have a government that expands even if nobody does anything, that’s a sign something is wrong. I won’t bore you (right now, anyways) with my whole philosophy on it, but I do believe that “autopilot” and “entitlement” spending should and always be unconstitutional. Period. Full stop.

But really, the whole article is a hoot. Futility index? Housekeeping? There’s a +1 for that one.




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