Don’t go away mad, 112th Congress, just go away

Don't go away mad, 112th Congress, just go away
Don't go away mad, 112th Congress, just go away

A curious thing happened on the House floor this morning. No work was scheduled, but the House nevertheless went back into session at 11 a.m. – just one hour before the new Congress is required to begin. It wasn’t clear why.

Maybe GOP leaders changed their mind on Hurricane Sandy relief and planned a vote literally at the 11th hour? Alas, no. It turns out the House never got around to agreeing to a “formal adjournment resolution that both chambers signed off on.” This morning’s session was making the end of the 112th Congress official.

As Roll Call put it, “What a perfect coda for the most contentious, fired-up, hard-to-please Congress in recent memory. They couldn’t even formally agree on when to end things.”

And so, as we congratulate the start of the 113th Congress, let’s also pause to note that the 112th was so spectacularly bad, it’s earned a special place in the history books. Ezra Klein wrote today, “Good riddance to rottenest Congress in history.”

What’s the record of the 112th Congress? Well, it almost shut down the government and almost breached the debt ceiling. It almost went over the fiscal cliff (which it had designed in the first place). It cut a trillion dollars of discretionary spending in the Budget Control Act and scheduled another trillion in spending cuts through an automatic sequester, which everyone agrees is terrible policy. It achieved nothing of note on housing, energy, stimulus, immigration, guns, tax reform, infrastructure, climate change or, really, anything. It’s hard to identify a single significant problem that existed prior to the 112th Congress that was in any way improved by its two years of rule.

I mentioned back in July that Matt Taibbi wrote a terrific piece for Rolling Stone in October 2006 about the Republican-led Congress in power at the time. He painted an unsettling picture of what he called the “Worst Congress Ever.”

“These were the years,” Taibbi wrote, “when the U.S. parliament became a historical punch line, a political obscenity on par with the court of Nero or Caligula – a stable of thieves and perverts who committed crimes rolling out of bed in the morning and did their very best to turn the mighty American empire into a debt-laden, despotic backwater, a Burkina Faso with cable.”

The article included this classic quote from Jonathan Turley: “The 109th Congress is so bad that it makes you wonder if democracy is a failed experiment.”

And I’m reasonably certain the 112th made the 109th look sensible, responsible, and mature.

The Congress that ended less than an hour ago didn’t legislate, couldn’t complete basic tasks, saw its public support drop to the lowest point since the dawn of modern polling, and undermined the national economy more than once.

To reiterate a point we’ve discussed before, it’s worth noting one of the consequences of having a Congress this abysmal is the extent to which it shapes our expectations. I felt great relief on several occasions over the last two years when lawmakers managed to avoid government shutdowns that lawmakers themselves had threatened – which was depressing, since I really shouldn’t have been impressed when the legislative branch of the United States government manages, just barely, to keep its own lights on.

We’ve internalized absurd standards. We simply assume as a matter of course that important policymaking is impossible, and we celebrate legislative moves that, in the recent past, were routine and unremarkable.

When voters headed to the polls in the 2010 midterms, they elected some of the most manifestly unqualified policymakers in a generation, and the result was a Congress that was hard to watch without covering your eyes.

So long, 112th. You won’t be missed.

Don't go away mad, 112th Congress, just go away