With cost estimates for the Iraq War now approaching two trillion dollars (wasn’t it supposed to pay for itself out of oil revenues?) I think it’s time to trace this pattern to its source. Earlier, I passed along a link to the excellent article in Rolling Stone, “The Worst Congress Ever.” Excerpts:
In the Sixties and Seventies, Congress met an average of 162 days a year. In the Eighties and Nineties, the average went down to 139 days. This year, the second session of the 109th Congress will set the all-time record for fewest days worked by a U.S. Congress: ninety-three. That means that House members will collect their $165,000 paychecks for only three months of actual work.
What this means is that the current Congress will not only beat but shatter the record for laziness set by the notorious "Do-Nothing" Congress of 1948, which met for a combined 252 days between the House and the Senate(together!). This Congress -- the Do-Even-Less Congress -- met for 218 days, just over half a year, between the House and the Senate combined.
And even those numbers don't come close to telling the full story. Those who actually work on the Hill will tell you that a great many of those "workdays" were shameless mail-ins, half-days at best. Congress has arranged things now so that the typical workweek on the Hill begins late on Tuesday and ends just after noon on Thursday, to give members time to go home for the four-day weekend.
On nine of its "workdays" this year, the House met for less than eleven minutes. The Senate managed to top the House's feat, pulling off three workdays this year that lasted less than one minute. All told, a full fifteen percent of the Senate's workdays lasted less than four hours. Figuring for half-days, in fact, the 109th Congress probably worked almost two months less than that "Do-Nothing" Congress. …
When one considers that Congress has forsaken hearings and debate, conspired to work only three months a year, completely ditched its constitutional mandate to provide oversight, issued almost no subpoenas and passed very little in the way of meaningful legislation, the question arises: What do they do?
The answer is easy: They spend. When Bill Clinton left office, the nation had a budget surplus of $236 billion. Today, thanks to Congress, the budget is $296 billion in the hole. This year, more than sixty-five percent of all the money borrowed in the entire world will be borrowed by America, a statistic fueled by the speed-junkie spending habits of our supposedly "fiscally conservative" Congress.
It took forty-two presidents before George W. Bush to borrow $1 trillion; under Bush, Congress has more than doubled that number in six years... borrowing from countries the sane among us would prefer not to be indebted to…
In 2000, Congress passed 6,073 earmarks; by 2005, that number had risen to 15,877. They got better at it every year. It's the one thing they're good at. [Note: The last year of Democratic control of Congress (1994) there were only about a thousand. So much for the myth that Democrats are bigger spenders than Republicans. Or the outright lie that fiscal restraint under Clinton was becuase of a GOP Congress.) And earmarks are insidious not just because of the spending they represent, but because they are generally stuck into legislation secretively, without hearings or even acknowledged authorship, usually as a quid pro quo for special interests. The are at the core of the Culture of Corruption.
Daggatt comments: ”But to call this Congress a “Do Nothing” Congress, again, would be selling them short, since they managed to pass the worst single piece of legislation in my lifetime, perhaps in the history of this country: The Military Commissions Act of 2006 (aka “The Torture Bill”). They also passed the two most grotesque pieces of fiscal legislation that I can recall. Including a bill that showered $136 billion in assorted corporate tax breaks on favored special interests*.”
(And please note that none if this even goes into the flood - soon to be a tsunami - of out-and-out scandals, with GOP members resigned or investigated, shamed or indicted or already in prison... already vastly more than ever seen in Dem-days. And all of it without significant internal cleanup or special prosecutors!)
Will the nation rebel? Unlike 1950, we don’t have a stirring leader like Harry Truman to rally the nation’s outrage. Daggatt speculates: It will be interesting to see, after the election, which force proves to be more powerful: The Republican desire for self-preservation (which will result in James Baker and other Republican elders attempting to “take the keys away” from Bush), or Bush’s desire to “run out the clock” and admit no errors while passing the Iraq mess along to his successor. I would still put my money on the former.”
Alas, I think this is naive. It assumes that the top GOP establishment is mostly honest and that their top priority is political survival. But what if each elder’s priority is personal survival? Or at least staying out of jail? Again. I predict that Bush will stay powerful, simply by threatening to leave people off his pardon list. There are thousands of powerful men and women who will then toe the line.
Unless... unless the dems steal a march on Bush by doing something really clever? Like forming a Truth Commission that promises clemency in exchange for whistle-blowing details? Fact: they cannot take away W’s Constitutional power to pardon. But there are a dozen things they could do, to rob this final trump card of its overwhelming power. Up the ante! Let’s offer pardons of our own! In exchange for the truth.
Ah, but let’s not get distracted. This is about “The Very Worst US Congress Ever.”
BTW. It is also about state assemblies that are dominated by the same crowd, the same establishment, so don’t forget those state races! In some ways, they are even more important. (If we can swing it so that ONE party is doing all the gerrymandering, then we will break the consensus BETWEEN the parties to commit this crime against the citizens. Send the GOP into the wilderness, even in Texas! Then they will suddenly (amazing!) see the light and style themselves as the party that’s “against gerrymandering!” And then we’ll have a chance to put the thunb-screws on the dems, and finally end this horror, once and for all.)
But, above all, stick to the message. Hammer it!
This is about The Worst U.S. Congress... by any objective standard... The Very Worst Congress. Ever.