Do-Nothing-Important Congress

12 July 2017

Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Senate Delays August Recess Desperate to Accomplish Anything

The US Congress usually leaves Washington, DC, in August for a month long recess. If one has been in the American capitol city that month, one has experienced simply abominable heat and humidity. Before air conditioning became commonplace, leaving was the only option. Tradition dies hard, and Congress usually has a four-to-six-week break including all of August. Not this year, however. The Senate will not recess until mid-August in the hopes that extra time will allow it to pass something. To date, this Congress hasn't accomplished much of anything.

As of the end of June, NPR says the president had signed 40 bills into law. "Measuring laws passed by counting rather than by significance is pretty meaningless. More on that in a bit. Among modern Oval Office occupants, Presidents Jimmy Carter (52), George H.W. Bush (41) and Bill Clinton (41) had all signed more bills into law than Trump has by this point in their presidencies."

What he has signed has been of minor significance. Of the 40, 15 repealed Obama era regulations on things like HJ res. 42 "Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to drug testing of unemployment compensation applicants." Another 6 modified existing programs, 5 asked agencies to try something new, another 5 named something or created memorial status (719 Church Street in Nashville, Tennessee, is now the 'Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse), 5 more related to personnel issues, 2 extended Obama era rules, 1 was an omnibus spending bill and 1 was actually a new policy (S. 1094 "Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017"),

None of this figured heavily in the Republican platform. Obamacare is still in place, and the replacement is not even beyond the discussion of principles stage. There has been no tax reform bill. There is no federal budget passed. The debt ceiling looms as a concern that must be addressed by legislation in the next couple of months. Perhaps it isn't a do nothing Congress so much as a Do-Nothing-Important Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) knows how to get things done in Washington, but his inability here is due to the Trump administration's ongoing Russia trouble and due to the divisions in the Republican Party. He has decided to extend the legislative calendar by two weeks, but one doubts it will matter.

The president and his team can not go out to sell any legislation without questions about Russian interference in the presidential election (and the Trump campaign's likely collaboration with the SVR and GRU) getting in the way. Without the president to whip up support from the base using the bully pulpit, legislating is that much harder.

Worse, the Majority Leader isn't really able to command a majority except in rare circumstances. The Freedom Caucus and the normal Republicans don't automatically fall into line, especially in the Senate. If the Democrats stay united, and thus far, they have exceeded what one expected in this regard, then there is almost no room for error on Mr. McConnell's part. Repealing Obamacare was easy when Mr. Obama was in the White House with his veto pen. Now that the changes will stick, it's become much more serious. Tax reform will be ten times worse with arguing among deficit hawks, tax cut fetishists and those who believe government should do things. The debt ceiling vote will not be easy, and the federal budget will not be passed at the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1.

When one party holds both Houses of Congress and the White House, it is a rare opportunity to achieve legislative revolutions. The Republicans so far have managed to name a building after an actor. That has to grate on Mr. McConnell's soul.

© Copyright 2017 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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