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A "Do-Nothing" Senate?

The Senate is planning to adjourn this weekend, giving those Senators seeking reelection over a month off to campaign. This is quite early. Indeed, as noted on ConfirmThem, this will be the earliest the Senate has adjourned in an election year in thirty years (if not more). Congress maven Norman Ornstein further observes:

This Congress hit the ground stumbling and has not lifted itself into an upright position. With few accomplishments and an overloaded agenda, it is set to finish its tenure with the fewest number of days in session in our lifetimes, falling well below 100 days this year.

This new modern record is even more staggering when one realizes that more than 25 of those days had no votes scheduled before 6:30 p.m., making them half- or quarter-days at best. The typical workweek in Congress (when there is a week spent in Washington) starts late Tuesday evening and finishes by noon Thursday. No wonder satirist Mark Russell closes many of his shows by telling his audiences what members of Congress tell their colleagues every Wednesday: "Have a nice weekend."

Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing. I am generally sympathetic to the view that Americans are safer when Congress is out of session. On the other hand, there are matters worthy of further Congressional consideration, from the detainee-treatment and NSA surveillance legislation (which may well keep Congress in schedule later than its leadership had planned) to the confirmation of federal judges (some of whom have been waiting, literally, for years).

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Specter on the Senate's Workload:

From Robert Novak's latest column:

Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, last Monday delivered an unusually candid assessment of the Senate's notoriously light work schedule.

In a National Press Club luncheon speech, Specter noted it was "very hard to convene a Monday morning hearing" because of extended weekends. He continued: "We've fallen into a routine . . . of starting our workweek Tuesday at 2:15 after we finish our caucus luncheons, and people start to get edgy and heading for the airports early on Thursday. So we might increase the workweek by 50 percent, say, to three days."

Realizing it was highly unusual for a senior senator to talk so frankly of the chamber's work habits, Specter quickly added with a smile: "By the way, that's off the record." The speech was broadcast live on C-SPAN.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Assessing the 109th Congress:
  2. Specter on the Senate's Workload:
  3. A "Do-Nothing" Senate?
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Assessing the 109th Congress:

The lead editorial in today's WSJ assesses the record of the 109th Congress, and it isn't pretty:

The 109th Congress has gone home to fight for re-election, and the best testament to its accomplishments is that very few Republicans are running on them. They're running instead against the peril to the country if the Nancy Pelosi Democrats take power.

We'll know in six weeks if this liberal fright mask is enough to save the GOP majority, but it's not too soon to say that Republicans in the 109th have been a major disappointment. The best thing about this Congress is that by doing little at least it did little harm. But despite their best chance in 50 years to reform the creaky institutions of the welfare state, Republicans couldn't maintain the unity or discipline to achieve nearly any of what they promised in 2004.

The editorial notes that some of the Republican majority's difficulties were due to a slim margin, Democratic obstructionism, and public discontent over the war in Iraq -- but these factors only explain so much.

none of this excuses the more fundamental problem, which is that too many Republicans now believe their purpose in Washington is keeping power for its own sake. The reform impulse that won the House in 1994 has given way to incumbent protection. This is the root of the earmarking epidemic, which now mars every spending bill and has become a vast new opportunity for Member corruption. This is also part of what corrupted felons Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, Jack Abramoff, Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon. Power for its own sake also explains the House GOP's decision to join Senate Democrats in killing serious reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, despite $16 billion in accounting mistakes or fraud. The Members are in bed with the housing subsidy lobby.

Even amid all of this scandal, many Republicans still refuse to acknowledge any problem. Appropriators continue to resist major budget reform, and the same Republicans who gave a Democratic President the line-item veto in the 1990s refused to give a weaker version to a GOP President this year. No wonder so many loyal Republican voters have been telling pollsters they're not sure if they'll vote this year.

If Republicans lose control of Congress, they'll have no one to blame but themselves.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Assessing the 109th Congress:
  2. Specter on the Senate's Workload:
  3. A "Do-Nothing" Senate?
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