Saying goodbye to one of the worst Congresses ever

Updated
When the current Congress got underway two years ago, Republicans, in control of both chambers for the first time in a decade, had very high hopes. Optimists imagined all sorts of exciting possibilities, including the potential for real progress on issues such as criminal-justice reform and immigration.

GOP leaders, with the 2016 elections in mind, were eager to show that Republicans could be a governing party, and with sizable House and Senate majorities, this was their chance.
Today, however, is technically the last day of the 114th Congress, and it’s worth pausing to appreciate just how dreadful it turned out to be. I’m reminded of this piece Norm Ornstein wrote for The Atlantic in June.
In 2011, I wrote a piece for Foreign Policy magazine about the 112th Congress; the editors helpfully titled it “Worst. Congress. Ever.” It was a bit of hyperbole, but it may be no exaggeration to call the current, 114th Congress the worst ever – at least edging out the infamous 112th.
We’ll get to that comparison in a minute, but let’s first take stock of the many reasons this current Congress was, as Ornstein put it, “cringe worthy.”

* A capable, compromise Supreme Court nominee was ignored – no hearing, no floor debate, no vote – as part of a partisan blockade unlike anything in the American tradition.

* Congressional productivity, as noted in the chart above, has remained stuck at an abysmal level. Since the Republican wave in the 2010 midterms, we’ve had three congresses: the 112th. 113th, and 114th. In terms of bills passed into law, these three rank 1st, 2nd, and 3rd as the least productive congresses since clerks started keeping track in the 1940s.

* Instead of legislating, lawmakers launched lengthy, expensive, and ultimately pointless witch hunts on manufactured pseudo “scandals” such as Benghazi and the IRS.

* Congress spent months ignoring public-health officials who warned lawmakers about the Zika virus threat.

* According to the Congressional Research Service, this Congress saw the lowest confirmation rate for civilian nominees in modern American history.

* For the first time since Congress changed the legal process surrounding the federal budgetary process in 1974, lawmakers didn’t even try to pass a budget, and deliberately ignored the budget plan submitted by the White House, without so much as a hearing.

* After boasting that they’d pass 12 appropriations bills through “regular order,” House and Senate leaders failed spectacularly to do what they said they’d do.

* This Republican-led Congress gave itself the lightest work schedule of any Congress in six decades.

* In October, Congress managed to override a White House veto and pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, effectively giving American citizens “the right to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.” Lawmakers realized soon after they hadn’t fully thought this through, and they quickly blamed President Obama for not doing more to stop them from screwing up their own plans.

The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell wrote in September, “[W]hile most of the United States has been distracted by the circus of the presidential campaign, Congress has regressed further into childishness, proving itself lazier, more incompetent and more obstructionist then even its fiercest critics could have imagined.”

So, was this the worst ever? I think it’s easily among the worst, but it has some tough competition. Its immediate predecessor, the 113th Congress, was even less productive and shut down the government for no apparent reason.

My vote for worst ever still goes to the 112th Congress, though, not just because it was the least productive on record, but also because it was the Congress in which Republicans created the first-ever debt-ceiling hostage crisis. Though much of the political establishment saw this as part of a routine budget fight, the truth remains that this was the first time elected lawmakers threatened to push the country into default, on purpose, unless their demands were met. The deliberate, GOP-imposed crisis hurt the economy, rattled international investors, and undermined confidence in the U.S. system of government.

It was, to my mind, one of the worst things a major party has done in Congress since the Civil War. The 114th Congress, thankfully, managed to avoid shutdowns and debt-ceiling crises.

But let’s not set the bar too low. The aforementioned list of this Congress’ failures is compelling evidence of a hapless and embarrassing institution.

Regular readers may recall my mentioning a 2006 piece Matt Taibbi wrote for Rolling Stone about the Republican-led 109th Congress, which he described at the time as the “Worst Congress Ever.”

“These were the years,” Taibbi wrote, “when the U.S. parliament became a historical punch line,” 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.”

Every Congress since the 2010 midterms has been worse.


Congress and Rachel Maddow Show Charts

Saying goodbye to one of the worst Congresses ever

Updated