Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Very Worst Congress Ever

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.


Tony Fisk said...

Nice work if you can get it...

Some questions:
- who decides when congress sits?
- what do congressfolk do when they're not sitting?
- have any of them ever objected to the workload?

(I did read an account of the democrats attempting to stage a sit-in, the GOP chair's attempts to gag it sounded like the tantrum of a kindergarten delinquent.)

Patrick said...

Dave -
Wanted you to know that while I was at a MoveOn phone party on sunday, I used some of your arguments (among others) to motivate reluctant democrat voters to get out and do their duty.


David Brin said...

Thanks Patrick. It is good occasionally to hear that these relentless yammerings actually make a small difference. Sometimes (always) it is hard to tell.

Remember, folks. There are insanities of the left. (e.g. the Green Party abso-freaking-lutely helped get us INTO this mess, in 2000, and gorget denying it.) One of those insanities is "they're all the same" cynicism.

Yes, the whole political caste badly needs a spanking from the citizenry. And you know I'll be ranting for us to get around to that! But we have to start somewhere. And this year, it's easy to choose a starting point.

When the choice is between one bunch that is kinda boring and shallow and a little corrupt (in a satiable/limited way) and disorganized, and bereft of fresh ideas... but also maybe seventy percent honest and sincere about solving problems and loving America and the future...

... vs a set of bona fide freaking monsters who have taken over one of our great political parties, every lever of government, most media and the tiller of a mighty natioin, sending it veering toward a reef -- treacherous genuine traitors who serve mamon and fanaticism ahead of their country, their Constitution and humanity...

Well, this just ain't Clinton vs Dole... a face-off between two homo sapiens who disagreed only over policy. At a time like that, you might justify yawning or staying home on election day. But not now.

This time, it is at minumum a choice between the future and the past. At worst, it is an election between tepid-good and outright, pure-distilled evil.

I may have reservations about the dems. But right now they are the only force in all of civilization standing between us and a genuine abyss. We had better pray they rise to the occasion.

Anonymous said...

Aww man, Andrew, you beat me to it. But here's Hilzoy's take over at Obsidian Wings anyway, 'cause she's a much better writer than me. As she says, "They care about power, and they will undermine our democracy before they let the voters pry the reins of power out of their claws."

Pretty much. I'm planning on volunteering at poll watching for part of the morning tomorrow. Though I don't expect any shenanigans, this is rural Republican country, though goodness knows why anyone would vote Republican in this day and age, after all the things they've done and failed to do and done and completely screwed up.

David Brin said...

Blake. If this happens, we will have to replace subpoenas and special prosecutors with something grassroots... perhaps a campaign to beckon courageous whistle blowers.

First and foremost, from Diebold. Every single employee of that company should be approached... and all of their friends and even relatives attending college far away. Asking, politley, for them to consider duty to a civilization that has been good to them, rather than to nefarious masters... or to their own cushy convenience. And there are other center-of-evil companies, with employee/henchmen who may not want to be so evil.

Or maybe some of the professionals in counter-intelligence will finally realize that their own organizations are suborned, and start pooling what they know informally, in the service to the nation and obedience to their oaths,

Frankly, I expected more such moves, by now. Alas, the last couple of years have proved to me that Americans are more like other people than I had thought. Far more of us are capable of rationalizing loyalty to the outrageously indefensible - based on symbolism and incantation - than ought to be.

Another possibility. If rural America insists on bullying the cities -- taking our technologies and generous farm subsidies and spitting on us, in return, (even though WE are in the front line of the "war on terror"...and we live (on average) more moral lives)... then maybe we in blue America should start...

But no. I will not be drawn into pre-bitterness. Nor will I play their game. There is one America.

I have faith. Faith that tomorrow witll be so overwhelming that Diebold will not matter. And a branch of government will be restored to the Constitution and the People. And then the professionals will feel protected enough to step forward.

(Nevertheless, I am buying more seed and fertilizer. Already a "gentleman farmer," I plan to expand my garden, reduce my meat intake, and grow more of what I feed my kids. We can ALL do that, at least a bit. And every bit will be good for you, your body & soul.)

Anonymous said...

Investigations? Cheney don't need no steenking investigations!

Or at least he probably wouldn't show up.

David Brin said...

hat's valuable about that article is the quotation (that can be hurled back at goppers) decrying Clinton's refusal to appear before a special prosecutor investigating illicit nookie... It will be good to throw at Cheney when he refuses to answer questions about gross malfeasance, turpitude and treason.

Anonymous said...

I'm im New Jersey, and the Senate race here has been pretty nasty. Basically, the Republican is accusing the Democrat of being a crook (which he might very well be), and the Democrat is accusing the Republican of, well, supporting the Republican agenda. It's not pretty. Given the current situation, though, I'd vote for the proverbial yellow dog before I vote for a Republican.

Genius said...

Well bush already seems to be the most unpopular person in the world...
After he leaves office he might be well advised to never leave the USA.

As to the elections one good thing is, I guess, the more frustrated the US left gets the more likely they are to ensure that there is a political clean slate so all that latent hatred of america can just fall on George.

Genius said...

As to the greens - instead of hating them for loosing the election you should change the system (ok maybe its a third rail but I suggest it would be the right thing to do).

Tony Fisk said...

It aches, doesn't it?

All I can say from this remove is that, after the victorian election upset in '99 (when all polls predicted the opposite), overweening bullies can and do get thrown out of office.

All the best.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

Regarding a response to rural America bullying the cities, I'm not sure exactly where you were leading with that - though as you say let's leave that until after the election. I did want to second your thoughts about "gentlemen farming."

When I lived in San Diego, I had about two dozen fruit trees on my little quarter-acre (including a mango, though Mark Twain was most assuredly right about the cherimoya). You are correct that there is definitely something "good for the soul" in farming. Which is why I agree with you wholeheartedly in trying to avoid the culture wars - rural America has simply been sold a bill of goods (just as many of the previously Republican-leaning urban professionals that I associate with were). Those on the left who demonize "red America" do both sides a disservice. The correct course is to simply point out that these folks are not honest conservatives - if anything the Democratic party is now the home to conservativism (and liberalism), while this gang is gone off in some other direction.

In any event, in San Diego you're certainly in the best climate in the country to pursue gardening. It's a passion that everyone should experiment with regardless of location and an activity that engenders a deeper sense of environmentalism (more than many armchair activists in the movement). Here's a site that explores some of the more interesting gardening options available for those in southern California.

David Brin said...

Heh, just TALKING about gardening lowers the blood pressure a couple of notches.

My kids are used to my coming in with an armload of silly "crops" any week, but they especially love navel orange season - coming up. Riffing to theology, I think oranges were about the last thing God invented, when he started getting things right. Citrus is rugged, transports well, nutritious, and stays ripe on the tree for MONTHS just waiting for your convenience.

Still, most people will find a teeny box garden satisfying. Seasonal veggies taste great. And something SHIFTS in your attitude toward life.

As for reducing meat intake, hey. I am still a carnivore. But I believe that we sedentary moderns eat vastly more than is good for us. Or for the planet. Eat it once or twice a week, and your arteries will thank you. Also the rainforest. And we'll be less dependent on foreign oil... and on those misled farmers who so despise us cityfolk, even though we're generous countrymen and customers, who live mostly good, moral lives. Who proved what we were made of, on 9/11....

But let's wait and see. Maybe the gray - I mean red - counties will surprise us. Let us pray.

David Brin said...

Heckfire, while we're at it, let me blather at you Californians:

Yes on 87. A no-brainer.

86 is more complicated. An absolutely dismal/horrid example of outrageous stupidity. Ratcheting up the tobacco tax makes sense only in increments small enough that smokers will choose between quitting or shrugging and paying. But raising in by $2.65 a pack?

Idiots. It drives every cop in the state into opposing this, because if it passes, a semi full of smuggled cigs will be worth $2million dollars!

Yeah, I plan to vote for it. But this is utter proof that the right has no monopoly on morons.

I am ticked off at my local councilman who waged the trumped-up and bigoted "War against the war on Christmas" last year. On the other hand, I got nothing against Guv Ahnold. Iv'e said it before. He is entertaining, moderate, buff, a hoot, and makes love to a Kennedy. He should be a kingmaker in 2008, as the GOP begins its slow rise from utterly cleansing ashes.

Anonymous said...

Take another look at 86, Dr. Brin. It protects HMOs from State anti-trust laws, allowing them to engage in price fixing.

It raises enough cash to send every smoker in CA to a de-tox retreat once every two years (which is how I quit), but most of the cash is given away to a medical industry that's already robbing our state blind.

It's obvious that it won't prevent kids from starting - and none of the money is earmarked for enforcing the laws against teens smoking - anymore than 350$ an ounce bud has stopped them from smoking pot.

It's just the State getting into the tabacco business. It means they will be making over three bucks a pack pure profit.

I don't want my State dependant on a lethal and highly addictive drug that damn near killed me for revenue. Makes it kind of hard for me to believe they're acting in good faith.

When they advocate a three dollar a pack tax that provides free medical care, de-tox, counseling and funding for drugs like Zyban and Chantix for smokers, I promise I will actively campaign for it.

This dog is just a disgusting attempt to exploit addicts in order to raise the profits of an already hugely profitable industry.

I hope you reconsider, rather than voting to damage sick people and their families.

(I only post when I strongly disagree with you...and this is my third post since you started this blog)

David Brin said...

I doubt I disagree as much as you think. There's an industry pushing bad initiatives. We need better processes to deliberate these things BEFORE they get on-ballot. StillI am tempted.

Anonymous said...

While this election is an opportunity to deliver a well deserved spanking to the GOP, it's not going to help get us better government.

Whoever wins, both parties will spend most of their time over the next two years trying to make the other party look bad for 2008.

Two things that might really, slowly, improve government:

1) The Read the Bills Act:

2) 3rd parties taking a page from proportional representation democracies, and brokering deals with the Reps/Dems to throw their support to specific candidates of one or the other, instead of quixotically jousting for impossible wins.

Once voting Green or Libertarian or Socialist no longer means wasting your vote or spoiling the election, we might break out of the poisonous myth of the "two party system".

Rob Perkins said...

I don't know if you could do it in your kind of soil quite as well as the Pac Northwest, but if you want a vine that keeps on giving for months, choose zuchinni. The only drawback was that it entirely took over my spinach patch.

So, yeah, I know what you mean about gardening. It'd be nice if I could combine two acres, cultivated and eco-poetic, with high speed internet access. *Sigh* maybe in ten years time...

Rob Perkins said...

Oh, and for Washington State, in case there are watchers who haven't mailed in the ballot yet:

Measure 920 -- vote NO. No point in repealing an estate tax that small.

Measure 933 -- vote NO. Revoking the right of a jurisdiction to exercise jurisdiction over property use is a great way to send tax money to a pile of build-and-run developers, who have no regard for the impact of their decisions on community quality.

Measure 937 -- likewise NO. Not including *hydroelectricity* in the list of renewable energy sources is just plain stupid.

Anonymous said...

For Virginia Constitutional amandments on the ballot:

#1 - the "Gay Marriage Ban" - Vote NO. Not just because it's bigoted and not worthy of being in the constitution, but because it's also amazingly over-broad and would affect many many other things.

#2 - The part about taking out the line not allowing churches to incorporate - Not sure it matters. It's already been ruled unconstitutional.

#3 - the tax exemptions for real estate - Vote NO, it's just another way for developers to make more cash and encourage them to build crappy subdivisions in places that don't need them.

Anonymous said...


I'm with you on all but 937. Yes, hydro is relatively clean power, but I read the bill as moving to push forward new techs to take over for oil and gas.

We can pull down solar in the east and probably some wind in the west. Heck, if we could burn just half of the moss that grows on anything out there...

Anonymous said...

PS - I've heard a random proposal on that Culture War staple, gay marriage, and wanted to hear what you all think about it:

Get the states out of the marriage business. Only allow churches to do marriage.

The marriage license would become a civil union, when would convey all of the common property, tax status, power of attorney and the rest. The civil union would then effectively become a domestic form of partnership, a purely legal construct with no religious connotation.

Meanwhile, the various churches are welcome to practice whatever form of 2000-year-old bigotry and backwardness they choose. And the Culture Warriors can go back to fighting this one on the ground, in the clergy selections and the church boards rather than DC.

Rob Perkins said...


It might be the only workable compromise, at the end of the battle.

Of course, the irony is not lost on ME. If you read the Supreme Court decisions which established serial monogamy as the only kind of marriage permissible in the United States, you'd probably be glad for the makeup of today's court *even with Roberts and Alito on it*.

I'll drum up references for anyone who is interested in that.