Shortly before the 2006 midterms, when voters threw out the Republican-led Congress in a Democratic wave, Matt Taibbi wrote a great piece for Rolling Stone about 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 quote from Jonathan Turley: “The 109th Congress is so bad that it makes you wonder if democracy is a failed experiment.”
It’s considerably worse now.
The least-productive Congress in modern history drew to an abrupt close late Tuesday as the U.S. Senate extended dozens of expired tax breaks but failed to renew a federally backed terrorism insurance program supported by big businesses and major sports leagues. […]“Thank God it’s over!” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) said as he exited the Senate chamber afterward…. Asked about the conclusion of the unproductive congressional session as he boarded an elevator,
The Washington Post’s report added, “Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) paraphrased the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: ‘That which cannot be spoken must be passed over in silence.’”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a 32-year veteran of Congress, added that this Congress has been “disgraceful.”
Looking just at congressional productivity, it’s hard to disagree. According to the tallies published by NBC News and Congress.gov, the 113th Congress passed a total of 203 bills into law since early last year. As the above chart shows, that’s the lowest total since officials started keeping track several generations ago – and it breaks the record set by the 112th Congress.
All of which leads to a straightforward question: is this the worst Congress ever?
It’s obviously subjective, though long-time readers may recall that I described the last Congress as the worst ever, and this one was hardly any better. Indeed, this one shut down the government for no apparent reason – a feat the previous Congress somehow managed to avoid.
Neither the 113th nor the 112th managed to pass major legislation. Both the 113th and the 112th struggled badly to complete even routine tasks. The 112th had the debt-ceiling crisis – to my mind, the worst thing any Congress has done since the Civil War – which probably tips the scales in the worst-ever contest, but the ridiculous shutdown does help even things out a bit.
The debate can continue – take advantage of the comments section to weigh in with your take – but whether this was the worst Congress or merely one of the worst Congresses, the fact remains that since the 2010 midterms, our legislative branch simply does not function as a responsible governing institution. Americans have made Capitol Hill the butt of jokes since its inception, but we are witnessing a genuine deterioration of the government’s ability to pass laws.
As the year ends and the dust settles, we’re left with a Congress that’s unproductive on a historic level, which lacks public support, which ignores popular will, and which has failed repeatedly to complete even routine tasks.
We were reminded quite recently that our collective expectations have fallen so far, much of the country seems relieved when federal lawmakers manage, after an extensive struggle, to even keep the government’s lights on.
The very idea of Congress passing landmark legislation on any issue – making a material difference in the lives of Americans – is so fanciful that few even bother to hope for legislative breakthroughs.
Or put another way, don’t go away mad, 113th Congress, just go away.