Every poll that has been run recently indicates clearly that Congress has a record low approval rating. Many observers believe Congress’ performance matches its approval rating, which has been described as “abysmal.” When lawmakers headed home last month for a five-week break, they left a long list of unfinished work with little to show for the past 18 months. Little, that is, except for an unacceptable level of dissatisfaction among the public. Polling data shows that nearly 80% of Americans are unhappy with Congress. The Republican-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate have set record lows for production and record highs for dysfunction. That’s something folks back home will not soon forget.
It appears the American people are fed up with the highly partisan actions in both the House and Senate. This partisanship – combined with election-year politics – has resulted in Congress failing to take up and pass some badly-needed legislation. Some of the issues that have been largely, if not totally, ignored include:
• Budgets that are required to be passed have not been passed.
• Some $110 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts are due to hit military and domestic programs on January 2nd, yet no bipartisan solution appears to be in sight or even under discussion by the leadership in Congress.
• Tax cuts for the middle-class have failed to pass, while GOP leaders insist on giving massive tax cuts to the super rich.
• The badly-needed Farm Bill hasn’t passed.
• Legislation to help a drought-stricken nation, which is so badly needed, has failed to pass.
• Climate change has been totally ignored with many in Congress denying its existence.
• The U.S. Postal Service faces uncertainty about its solvency, but nothing has been done in either the House or Senate to remedy the problem.
• Student loans are in trouble with nothing being done by Congress.
• Campaign Finance Reform legislation has been put on the back burner.
This sort of standoff is what happens when a bitterly divided government mixes with election-year politics to throw sand in the gears of official Washington. It certainly appears that the Tea Party-dominated House has been the real villain in this sorry state of affairs but the Senate has to share some of the blame. The sad part of that is the leadership of the House doesn’t seem to care. It was reported that only 151 laws have been enacted in 19 months, and more than two dozen of those were to rename post offices and courthouses, or add members to the Smithsonian board. By comparison, the previous Congress enacted 383 laws with President Barack Obama in the White House and Democrats controlling Capitol Hill. Even in 2007-08, when Republican Bush was President and Democrats ran Congress, 460 laws were enacted.
A poll last month by CBS News and The New York Times found Congress with a 12% approval rating and 79% disapproval score. Lawmakers will return this month for what promises to be an abbreviated pre-election session with two main items of business. Most important is a six-month spending bill to keep the government running through March and prevent any possibility of a politically-explosive government shutdown before the election. Not one of the 13 must-pass spending bills has passed and the new budget year begins October 1st.
The Treasury Department has said the government’s borrowing limit will be reached near the end of 2012, but it has the ability to shift money to buy a few months reprieve to give the next Congress time to act. That puts the likely deadline for the borrowing authority on a collision course with the expiration of the temporary spending bill to keep the government operating through March. Clearly, this is not the way things are supposed to work. Hopefully, the folks back home will tell members of Congress to go back to Washington, work together for a change and get something done!
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