Friday, February 05, 2010

Is this really a "do nothing" Congress?

A very productive Congress, despite what the approval ratings say, is the provocative title of a recent Washington Post column from Norman Ornstein, a leading Congressional expert. He argues that this Congress, despite polls suggesting that 58% of Americans consider it below average or one of the worst ever, is actually one of the most productive ever.

That's right, you read that correctly. According to Ornstein (who, believe me, knows what he's talking about):

"[t]his Democratic Congress is on a path to become one of the most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66, and Obama already has the most legislative success of any modern president -- and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson."

If that doesn't seem right to you, consider the massive investments that occurred through the Recovery Act in our nation's schools, infrastructure and energy and environmental programs, including green technology. Then Congress passed children's health insurance, a law to regulate tobacco and a credit card holder's bill of rights, any one of which would be considered a major accomplishment. And all this within the course of the first year -- a legislative record that would put many 2-year sessions to shame.

Clearly, there's a disconnect between what Congress does and how we perceive its activity. A part of the problem, in my opinion, is that we as citizens don't really understand what Congress is supposed to be doing. As an institution, Congress is not designed to PASS legislation: it is designed to fight and argue and deliberate about legislation. Chaos and inefficiency are supposed to rule in our legislative environments -- and, clearly, they do.

Effective advocates will spend some time learning about the institutions they are trying to influence. One great resource is "Congress and Its Members" by Davidson, Oleszek and Lee. Or, check out the resources on the Library of Congress' "Thomas" website.

Happy advocating!

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