So a couple of political scholars have run the numbers and declared the 112th Congress the worst ever.
Is anyone surprised?
Gridlock reigns not because the two major parties are at ideological extremes and can’t find middle ground. The current crop of federal lawmakers has passed fewer bills than any Congress in history because the Say No party that controls the House and boasts a sizable minority in the Senate has been loath to compromise on anything.
The Republican ranks will do nothing even remotely helpful as long as a Democrat occupies the White House. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell declared the party’s overriding mission early on: Ensure that history records Barack Obama as a one-term president, regardless of the impact on America.
The Republican side became more rigid, if that’s possible, with the arrival of tea party freshmen who drew a hard line not just with Democrats, but with pragmatists in the GOP. The tea party types took pride in their inflexibility. After all, they said they were reducing the deficit and protecting taxpayers from the free-spending Obama.
In truth, the federal budget deficit spiked under President George W. Bush because he, with bipartisan assistance, propelled the nation into a disastrous war in Iraq, installed a prescription drug program with no idea how to pay for it and insisted on two tax cuts that included the ultrawealthy because, as the Republican myth goes, the rich won’t create jobs without those tax cuts. The recession that caught the Obama administration flatfooted made it impossible to balance the budget.
The Republican Party followed its dreadful performance during the Bush years by resisting the federal government’s duty to stimulate the economy in a recession and proposing that Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare be “saved” by shredding them into programs barely recognizable.
The party line includes these tenets: Once the Affordable Care Act takes hold armageddon will follow; Barack Obama is a socialist; and virtually all regulations – even rules that commercial airline pilots be properly trained – hamstring the economy. Thankfully, the Senate has been blocking turn-back-the-clock legislation. But the efforts still achieve the Republican goal of distracting Congress from meaningful tasks.
President Harry Truman railed against the lawmakers of 1947-48. They approved just 906 bills, leading Truman to call them the “Do-Nothing Congress.” By comparison, the 112th Congress of 2011-12 has approved 127 bills, the fewest ever.
There has been no accord on a federal budget. Congress has not agreed on how to provide relief to drought-stricken farmers. The clock is ticking on the deadline when, without an agreement, deep cuts will be inflicted in domestic and defense programs. The deadlines were established when Republicans refused to accept Obama’s offers on a deficit-reduction package.
However, in the name of progress, the Republican-controlled House has taken 33 meaningless votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
When Obama took office this country was engaged in two wars and sinking deeper into recession. If ever there was a time to pull together, it was then. Instead, Americans got a Congress frozen solid because one party became the party of No.