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The do-everything Congress

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Congress-watcher Norm Ornstein says the 111th Congress -- that's this one -- "is on a path to become one of the most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66." The big player here is the stimulus bill, which did more on its own than any two or three Congresses put together. But don't ignore the accomplishments of the House of Representatives: Not only did it pass a health-care reform bill, but it also passed cap-and-trade legislation and a financial regulation package. It's not Nancy Pelosi's fault that those bills haven't been signed into law.

Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 1, 2010; 7:07 AM ET
 
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Comments

As glad as I am that none of those things have been signed into law (and as much as I would have preferred that TARP and the Stimulus bill been more about big fat tax cuts), I don't see how the Democrat base can be all that mad at the Dems and the Whitehouse. Obama hasn't done everything perfect, but he's certainly made a heck of an effort to advance his agenda. Most of the Dems in the senate are on board. The House actually passed a few of those well-intended, prosperity-destroying bills. ;)

I don't see how sitting out the next few election cycles because you didn't get every last thing you wanted is going to benefit anybody but rock-ribbed conservatives, who want to cut your taxes. Imagine the future tragedy if you guys give up now--no new entitlement spending, and your taxes will be cut!

That being said, I've noticed a softening towards the Dems in the comment boards of various punditry websites of late. Are you guys finally calming down, ready to give Obama and the Senate Democrats one more chance? Yes, they made some mistakes with healthcare. But they really do love you, and all they want to do his make you happy. Come on. For old time's sake.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 1, 2010 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Kevin_Willis, the problem is, barely any of the bills passed by the House or (more rarely) the Senate have been enacted into law. This very active and sedulous Congress will have achieved very little in the end, and the administration could have avoided the problem to some extent by not wasting time trying to appease Republicans on the health care bill. In the end, I think this report simply puts a spotlight on how ridiculously messed up the Senate is.

Posted by: agowen100 | February 1, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse

how can it not be at least in part Nancy Pelosi's fault that health care is not going to be signed into law? Right now the ball is in the house of rep's hands. All they have to do is pass the senate bill. Are there problems in the senate bill? Sure, but the senate bill is still way better than the status quo. Passing cap and trade and other bills, when there is little chance of them being signed into law, is no big accomplishment. If Pelosi wants credit as a great Speaker, then she needs to get health care done. She doesn't need Obama. She just needs a majority of votes in the house.

Posted by: Levijohn | February 1, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

The real problem with the US Congress is that both 'parties' are so intent on not giving the other 'party' credit for any legislation, they are prepared to sacrifice a solution to a known serious problem, such as national health care costs, and maintain a permanent gridlock. They have already cost the American people 4 trillion dollars in waste and are engaged in a gridlock process that will waste another 4 trillion because of an inability to determine programs that reflect some combination of the Constitution's six covenants, Justice, Tranquility, Common Defense, General Welfare, Liberty, and our Posterity. What would happen if the $3.8T budget proposed was broken down and submitted to the Congress in components like DOD, DOJ, HHS and so forth with Justice and Liberty values attached? Note that appropriations reflect Justice if an item is spread uniformly throughout the United States and reflect a loss of Liberty if the tax revenue required is excessive. Example: at what point would something like a terrorist trial in NYC cost more Liberty than it supplied Tranquility and Common Defense? Just a thought....

Posted by: arjay1 | February 1, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Levijohn, agreed. However, Obama could sure as hell do some more pushing on the matter and help Pelosi out. Just look at how enthralling and uplifting that one hour of debate that Obama had with House Republicans at their annual retreat was. His intelligence, articulateness, and likability are like superpowers, but he refuses to wield them because he thinks he's just a danger to his own agenda. What he took away from the MA election was that the American people totally hate the prospect of health care reform because it's too liberal, and he's the biggest liberal target. Obama sort of reminds me of Superman giving up his powers in Superman II.

Posted by: agowen100 | February 1, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Well, 2 out of 3 aren't supported by the public. Nancy is lucky they didn't pass.

Posted by: obrier2 | February 1, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Quoting James B. Reston, writing in 1966 regarding the 89th Congress, "What was particularly striking about 1965 was the contrast between the record of movement and progress in the field of domestic affairs and the record of disappointment, stalemate, and even regression in the field of foreign affairs. [...] At the start of the year, the United States has about 60,000 men in Vietnam acting as 'advisers' and 'assistants' ... By the end of the year, the entire picture has changed. The United States has an expeditionary force of about 200,000 men engaged in the front line of an open war against North Vietnamese regular army regiments and Viet Cong guerrillas. ... The draft of young men had gone up from about 8,000 to over 40,000 a month."

The President Johnson and 89th Congress are indeed responsible for both the current Medicare burden and for escalation of the Vietnam War.

Posted by: rmgregory | February 1, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

The Stimulus bill was a bid deal for 2009-2011. But its provisions were largely short-term over that time period and will be of little lasting impact to history.

History will record it as being of much less value given its non-recurring nature that law changes that have a recurring affect over generations. Medicare Part D is of much greater consequence. Even the wars of Iraq and Afgahnistan were much bigger votes when we will view it in a historical context than the stimulus bill.

Obviously the Social Security Act was much more important than some of Roosevelt's limited deficit spending provisions when viewed by history. However, at the time, it was the public works projects that were more important.

Posted by: lancediverson | February 1, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

They also passed a massive and wasteful stimulus package, successive increases in the debt ceiling, and will shortly pass a budget with a 1.6 trillion dollar deficit. I'm not sure how much more of Pelosi's legislative success the nation can survive.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 1, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Well, Johnson's responsible for Medicare insofar as it passed on his watch. The "burden" of Medicare is due to out of control healthcare costs throughout the entire country. If healthcare costs in general were contained in this country, Medicare wouldn't be the problem that it is.

Posted by: MosBen | February 1, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

bgmma50, do you oppose raising the debt ceiling? Please explain your understanding of what would happen if the debt ceiling were not raised.

Also, please explain how you would have responded to the economic crash of 2008. If you believe that some kind of stimulus was necessary, but that the one that was passed was wasteful, please indicate your non-wasteful alternative.

Posted by: MosBen | February 1, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

As to the substance of this post, it's more the do-everything House than do-everything Congress. The Senate shouldn't get credit for the fact that the House isn't deeply dysfunctional.

Posted by: MosBen | February 1, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Though I have substantive disagreements with Pelosi on virtual every area of policy substnace, I've got way more admiration for her than almost anyone else in Congress.

She knows how to take care of business. It's too bad that she's stuck with feckless men as political partners.

Posted by: TWAndrews | February 1, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Ezra,

I agree that Ornstein does a good job of putting the major accomplishments of the 111th into perspective, but it is important to remember where he is coming from. While I respect Ornstein's views, we can't forget that this American Enterprise Instituter probably does not believe that we need to expand and redefine the scope to government to adress the formidable problems facing this country. What is left unsaid in his Sunday WaPo piece is that he does not want Congress to go much further than they already have. As always

Be well and do good work,
zach8807

Posted by: zach8807 | February 1, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

while you can try to say the 111th congress was a success the signature issue of Healthcare is stalled at Nancy's desk. The fact that she can't as of yet get her caucus together to sign off on the Senate bill will not only be the proof that this Congress is a failure (as many before it were too) but it will also ensure she loses her gavel sooner rather than later and it couldn't happen to a nicer person.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 1, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Good to see your inner misogynistic wingnut showing, wallet-breaker.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | February 1, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

"bgmma50, do you oppose raising the debt ceiling?"

I support enacting budgets that will not necessitate the raising of the debt ceiling.

"Please explain your understanding of what would happen if the debt ceiling were not raised."

Gee, is it just me or are you trying to be condescending? No matter. See my answer to your first question.

Also, please explain how you would have responded to the economic crash of 2008. If you believe that some kind of stimulus was necessary, but that the one that was passed was wasteful, please indicate your non-wasteful alternative.

I supported the expansion of food stamps and unemployment benefits. I opposed paying $30 billion to extend COBRA benefits, because COBRA payments are outrageously high. Instead, I would have made the unemployed eligible for Medicaid and means tested the premiums. I opposed the tax cuts. I opposed all payments to California and other profligate states made before they enacted necessary budget cuts of their own. I opposed all of the bridges to nowhere and never believed the fantasy of shovel ready projects. However, knowing that the impulse to do something is irresistable to politicians, could have lived with infrastructure spending devoted solely to the development of alternative energy and energy independence. We would still have flushed billions down the toilet, but might actually have come out of it with something to show for it. Unlike what we have to show for it now, which is a big, fat zero.

Thank you for asking! :)

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 1, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

aw come on now pseudo. I said she was nice

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 1, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

"Most Productive," my butt. There was a day when I could spend a reasonable amount of time to learn what government next had in store for me, my kids, my grandkids...let's see, now $45,000 times nine equals $400.000+.....and that's just what we know about in this era of opaque transparency. We could make it one hell of a lot easier to be a citizen if we tried a unicameral legislative branch...sure would beat the towers of babel we now have. I bet if we tried the latter, the President might even know what in hell is going on.

Posted by: connyankee1 | February 2, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

"Most Productive," my butt. There was a day when I could spend a reasonable amount of time to learn what government next had in store for me, my kids, my grandkids...let's see, now $45,000 times nine equals $400.000+.....and that's just what we know about in this era of opaque transparency. We could make it one hell of a lot easier to be a citizen if we tried a unicameral legislative branch...sure would beat the towers of babel we now have. I bet if we tried the latter, the President might even know what in hell is going on.

Posted by: connyankee1 | February 2, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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