A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Americans don’t like do-nothing Congress

Bill Knight column for Thurs, Fri., or Sat., Oct. 4, 5 or 6

If there’s anyone as unpopular as the NFL’s replacement referees this fall, it’s Congress.

After all, “action” such as Senate Republicans on Sept. 19 killing the veterans jobs bill –endorsed by the American Legion (and co-written by four GOP Senators who followed orders and voted against it!) – may be one reason, tied to the GOP’s strategy to stall or stop government, apparently hatched in a 2009 meeting.

Some 9 out of 10 Americans disapprove of Congress, according to a new Gallup poll. Before 2007, the disapproval rating topped 80 percent only twice.

“Americans’ distaste for the institution is entirely bipartisan,” the Gallup report says. “Only 11 percent of independents, 10 percent of Republicans, and 9 percent of Democrats approved.”

In 2011, the highest approval rating for Congress was 31 percent (Feb. 7, according to Fox News); last year, its highest approval rating was 22 percent (June 15, according to the Associated Press).

Predictably, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pointed to GOP roadblocks.

“The source of congressional inaction today is a Republican congressional leadership that cannot, or will not, govern,” Pelosi said in USA Today, “that will not put aside partisanship to work together.”

That’s in contrast to the 2007-2009 Congress, she said, when Democrats controlled the House and Republican George W. Bush was President.

“We worked across the aisle with President Bush and many Republican colleagues,” Pelosi continued. “The Democratic House passed more than 230 key measures, with over 70 percent receiving bipartisan backing. By the end of 2008, President Bush signed 460 laws passed by the Democratic Congress.”

When the nation elected Barack Obama, that changed, according to Robert Draper, a GQ magazine correspondent and a former contributing writer to National Geographic, whose 2012 book “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives” is a nonpartisan expose of the functions and dysfunction there. A revealing passage in the title is its prologue, which details a January 20, 2009, meeting at a posh Capitol Hill restaurant with 12 Republican Senators and Congressmen, plus ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich, GOP pollster Frank Luntz and conservative journalist Fred Barnes.

The four-hour get-together was attended by U.S. Reps. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Eric Cantor (Va.) plus Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), Dan Lungren (Calif.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), and Pete Sessions (Texas), and U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), John Ensign (Nev.), and Jon Kyl (Ariz.). That night – the evening of Obama’s Inauguration – the group pledged to start delaying or blocking all legislation proposed by the White House.

The secret meeting also plotted to organize opposition to all stimulus bills, although the lawmakers all had voted for Bush’s stimulus measure, and Draper’s reporting shows that politics was the driving force, not governance or the American people.

From ongoing Republican filibusters in the Senate to the Tea Party-influenced GOP takeover of the House in 2010, the effort has been to impede government to gain power. Exemplified by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s Oct. 23, 2010, admission to the National Journal that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” today’s Congress is the least productive since World War II – worse than 1948’s Congress, known as the “do-nothing Congress.” Just 61 bills have been enacted through August this year – out of 3,914 measures introduced (less than 2 percent of all bills, according to an analysis of records kept by the U.S. House Clerk’s office since 1947).

Specifics? Here’s a partial list of proposals derailed by a GOP-controlled vote or filibuster: the small business jobs act, a tax on companies that ship jobs overseas, an anti-rape amendment, benefits for homeless veterans, health care for 9-11 first responders, the jobs bill, oil spill liability, Wall Street reform, immigration reform, extending unemployment compensation, a political ad disclosure bill, and the Fair Pay Act of 2009.

Plus, who can forget House Republicans’ series of tantrums in voting to repeal the Affordable Health Care for America – 33 times?

How much of the economy – the future – is the GOP willing to sacrifice to prevent Obama’s ideas from even being tried? Veterans advocate Paul Rieckhoff expects little from Capitol Hill.

“This Congress let partisan bickering stand in the way of putting thousands of America’s heroes back to work,” said Rieckhoff, founder and head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “This bill was smart bipartisan policy that would put veterans back into service for their communities as policemen, firefighters and first responders. The result … creates tremendous doubt that this Congress will be able to pass any additional veterans legislation in 2012. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans should not have to wait until 2013 for critical support from Congress.”

Maybe 9 out of 10 Americans disapproving of Congress makes perfect sense.

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