Monday, July 31, 2006

Do Nothing Congress

If current trends continue, this Congress will have the distinction of meeting less and having fewer voting days in decades. In fact, it will have fewer voting dates than the infamous "do nothing" Congress of 1948. With the House gone until after Labor Day and the Senate leaving soon, members are focusing more on connecting with their districts than with passing legislative initiatives.

But is this really such a terrible or unexpected thing? On the one hand, it would be nice to see Congress a little further along with its appropriations bills (none have made it all the way through the process, and the fiscal year ends September 30th). On the other hand, those who attack Congress for its lack of progress on legislation fail to recognize one important fact -- "passing laws" is actually not the "end-all, be-all" of being a member of Congress. Congressional sessions should not be judged on how much legislation was actually passed -- in many cases, members of Congress play a more important role in halting legislation than in moving it forward.

Consider the wide array of activities in which members of Congress and their staff are involved besides passing legislation:

* Meeting with Constituents to hear their views, both in Washington DC and the District
* Working to bring federal dollars and projects to their districts
* Working with federal agencies on questions about implementation of laws
* Shedding light on domestic and international problems and concerns (through the hearing process)
* Responding to the thousands of requests for information that flood into their offices
* Learning about complex societal issues, such as emergency preparedness or homeland security
* Publicly stating their views on issues that matter to their constituents

In addition to all this, they must spend a great deal of time outside the office campaigning for re-election! As such, it's no wonder, and perhaps not such a tragedy, that Congress hasn't passed a lot of legislation.

If you want to read more about the "do-nothing" Congress, check out this Washington Post article.

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