Skip to main content

What you need to know about Congress right now

08/21/2013 08:11AM, Published by ACL, Categories: In Print, Opinion


By Lee H. Hamilton

Deeply unpopular and flagrantly unproductive, Congress is on its August recess right now. It won't return until Sept. 9, after a five-week recess, leaving itself just a few days to settle issues like raising the debt ceiling and passing a federal budget. Here are some things you should know about where it stands at this stage of the game:

-- Few, if any, Congresses can match this one for futility. It managed to help out some communities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and to reach a deal on presidential nominations, but mostly it can't get things done, whatever your politics. The repeal of Obamacare, action on climate change, a "grand bargain" on our fiscal problems, education and tax reform, creating jobs, strengthening gun laws ... the list of dropped balls is long, although there is still hope for immigration reform, if just barely. A few weeks ago, Speaker John Boehner told Americans not to judge Congress by how many laws it passes, but by how many it repeals. It hasn't succeeded on either count.

-- The budget process is a mess. It's been years since Congress put together a budget according to its regular order, but even by its recent low standards this year has been chaotic. None of the appropriations bills needed for the government to continue running after Sept. 30 have been enacted. "It is common for Congress to leave big budget fights until the last minute," the Wall Street Journal's Janet Hook wrote as Congress left town, "but the budgeting process now seems so adrift that even congressional veterans find it hard to see a resolution." Passing a budget is the most basic function of government, and Congress can't manage it.

-- Members of Congress do not like to compromise. The parties are more divided ideologically than they've been for many decades, with one side fiercely hostile to government and the other convinced that government can accomplish good things. Neither side can get things done on its own. That's pretty much the definition of when responsible lawmakers step forward to build a consensus. Yet in this Congress, either they don't know how or they're not interested. A glimmer of hope does exist, as more members respond to polls showing Americans believe it's more important for the parties to compromise than to stick to their positions. They may not be able to come to agreement, but some of them are talking about how willing they are to reach across the aisle.

-- Even so, it's worth noticing that one of the congressional parties is extraordinarily difficult to lead at the moment. The Republicans are fractured and squabbling over their future direction. This makes me sympathize with the formidable task the Republican leadership confronts.

-- Hardly anyone out there thinks Congress is doing a good job -- it's consistently below 20 percent approval ratings -- and most people think it's too partisan. Yet members aren't very concerned. They've become quite skilled at running against Washington, even though they are Washington. And they count on the fact that few voters hold their own member of Congress responsible for its shortcomings, however unpopular Congress as a whole has become.

-- As lobbyists descend in swarms on Capitol Hill, they hold more power than ever. They rain cash, twist arms, and even draft bills -- all the things that powerful congressional leaders used to do. The NRA's defeat of legislation strengthening background checks for gun purchases, in the face of overwhelming public sentiment after Newtown, was nothing less than an impressive display of political clout and an example of how influential lobbyists and special interests have become. Perhaps this is why a good number of my former colleagues have made a tidy living for themselves by becoming lobbyists.

-- Finally, all of this contributes to the emerging themes for the 2014 congressional campaign. Candidates will clearly run against the mess in Washington, and a good number of them, though not all, will talk regularly about the need to be bipartisan. The big question for 2015 will be whether the successful ones can translate their talk into legislation to help move the country forward.

 

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.



congress opinion


You might also like

Why I still have faith in Congress

Lee H. Hamilton for the week of June 4, 2014.

Get ready for more of the same

Lee Hamilton for the week of May 21, 2014.
Thumb_ryan-costello

The Republican Party’s rising star

County Commissioner Ryan Costello will win his party’s nomination for the 6th congressional district seat next Tuesday. He will be favored to win the seat in November. Local Republicans believe that the 37-year-old’s political future is a bright one

It looks like we don't have any events for this date. You can always add an event.

  • Longwood Fire Company’s annual open house will be held for the first time under the stars on Thur...


  • Sherry Dinner

    10/23/2014
    07:00pm — 10:00pm

    The Yardley Inn is hosting an exclusive Sherry Dinner on Thursday, October 23, 2014. Enjoy a mea...


  • Zoo Yoga: OM’ing Otters

    10/25/2014
    09:15am — 10:15am

    (Ages 4-7 years old) Weekly Saturdays or Sundays, September-November (Classes held in the Educati...


  • Flying Colors Fine Artists Show and Sale

    10/25/2014
    10:00am — 05:00pm

    Flying Colors will host its Annual Art Show and Sale from October 24 to October 26, 2014 at The M...


  • Saturday Zoo Tales

    10/25/2014
    10:30am — 11:00am

    Join us for a fun, animal or nature themed story and a visit from one of our fun program animals!...


  • ChesLen Chase for Open Space

    10/25/2014
    11:00am

    Get ready to run for nature at Natural Lands Trust’s epic ChesLen Chase for Open Space, with 10K,...


  • Flying Colors Fine Artists Show and Sale

    10/26/2014
    10:00am — 05:00pm

    Flying Colors will host its Annual Art Show and Sale from October 24 to October 26, 2014 at The M...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    10/26/2014
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • NEWARK SYMPHONY CONCERT

    10/26/2014
    03:00pm — 05:00pm

    THE NEWARK SYMPHONY PRESENTS “Fall in Italy” Simeone Tartaglione, Music Director Sunday, Octobe...


Chester County High School Sports