What in the World is Congress Doing?

 

We live in a time where nothing is getting done in Congress. So I decided to investigate the role of Congress in our government of checks and balances, and see what they are supposed to be doing; what I discovered was more disillusioning than enlightening:

Congress has the power to:

  • Make laws
  • Declare war
  • Raise and provide public money and oversee its proper expenditure
  • Impeach and try federal officers
  • Approve presidential appointments
  • Approve treaties negotiated by the executive branch
  • Oversight and investigations

Then I thought, who performs oversight on Congress when “oversight” (in the form of excessive investigations) is all they seem to be doing? The answer is: we do. That’s right; we get to vote out Congress when we don’t like how they are doing their jobs. Given that we still have 1.5 years to try to free ourselves of their ineptitude, is there something I’m missing? Is there no way to get them to do their jobs?

For now, let’s take a closer look at the power of Congress. The first power given to them is to “make laws”; in checking on their success at passing laws, I was not encouraged:

Ahead of the Memorial Day recess, and nearly halfway through the year, Congress has only passed 17 laws. Major laws that the 116th Congress has passed include reopening the government following the shutdown, a bipartisan public lands measure, and changes to Medicaid. Some of the other laws passed changed the address of a post office in Charlottesville, Virginia, created an award for classified school employees like security officers and cafeteria workers, and clarified the grade and pay of podiatrists in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Then again, is the measure of Congressional success the number of laws that are passed? After all, the economy is great but we are severely in debt. Besides, what can you expect from a Congress that essentially works only three days per week?

The next “power” that Congress has is to declare war. We’ll skip that one since I think everyone on the Left and Right agrees that declaring war would not be a wise decision.

The next power is “raising and providing public money and overseeing its proper expenditure.” Democrats would be delighted to raise money by taxing everyone and everything in sight; when it comes to overseeing expenditures, I don’t think anyone is much interested in taking that step; we don’t even operate with a budget.

Now the next one has potential: let’s impeach someone! Any suggestions? As long as Nancy Pelosi is in a tug-o-war with her caucus, we’ll have to take a wait-and-see position. Meanwhile, their faux impeachment investigations will continue.

The next power is approving presidential appointments, where we have made some progress. Senator McConnell has done a great job of filling judicial positions. I’m not sure that he’s doing much else, but we must give him credit for that accomplishment.

Regarding the approval of treaties, I don’t think anyone in either the House or the Senate or the President himself knows what a treaty is anymore. I guess the latest one waiting to be considered is the USMCA; on both sides of the aisle, some people love it, some people hate it. I don’t know if it matters since they probably won’t put it up for a vote any time soon.

And the last power of Congress is “oversight and investigations.” Now we’re talking! At least a half dozen Congressional committees are investigating Trump. They insist that Trump is guilty of multiple crimes and misdemeanors. And they won’t give up until they find them.

Meanwhile, the only oversight we can provide over Congress is at the ballot box. I’m not happy with any of them, Democrats or Republicans, Left or Right, Senators or Representatives. The Democrats seem to be overcome by hatred, the Republicans by fecklessness.

I think it’s time to clean house.

In 2020.

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There are 60 comments.

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  1. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    The country is too tribal to accomplish anything important. The “Disaster relief” bill was filled with pork barrel nonsense. The national debt will not be addressed until there is a crisis. I suspect that crisis will be a catastrophe like war or financial collapse. 2008 was a warning and will come again. Trump is very alone in DC. Both parties are deeply corrupt. Not necessarily personal corruption but most politicians are dependent on donors who want something. Probably something that is not good for the country as a whole. I cannot figure out what Soros wants. Steyer is on some sort of personal religion about global warming. He’s a smart man. Does he believe that stuff ? The tech billionaires are probably devoted to H1B visas that raise their profits as American tech workers lose jobs to indentured servants from India.

    • #1
    • June 9, 2019, at 7:32 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  2. I Walton Member

    Congress wasn’t supposed to do much, but then neither was the executive branch. That worked pretty well for almost 200 years, then we got bi-partisan progressivism, so now we have to undo most of what they’ve done, and constitutionally that requires that they do it. It’s a fundamental dilemma, but if we don’t return most power the way the constitution designed it, it won’t end well. It will end like every other civilization has ended and for the identical reasons.

    • #2
    • June 9, 2019, at 7:42 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  3. Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn: Raise and provide public money and oversee its proper expenditure

    The actual text regarding money is:

    5: To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

    Notice what isn’t there?

    • #3
    • June 9, 2019, at 7:42 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    I prefer going back to the original text.

    • #4
    • June 9, 2019, at 7:44 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):
    I cannot figure out what Soros wants.

    I think Soros wants chaos, @michaelkennedy. Then he can step in with his cronies and do whatever he likes.

    • #5
    • June 9, 2019, at 7:49 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    I Walton (View Comment):
    then we got bi-partisan progressivism,

    This is the tragedy, @iwalton. I viewed the Hillsdale course on Congress, and the Republicans have been progressives for a very long time.

    • #6
    • June 9, 2019, at 7:50 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Raise and provide public money and oversee its proper expenditure

    The actual text regarding money is:

    5: To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

    Notice what isn’t there?

    Indeed, @arahant. Unfortunately, I think the days of actually trying to follow the Constitution are long gone. Too many people would have to give up too much of their power and the government would be incapable of cutting back to anything close to the original Constitution.

    • #7
    • June 9, 2019, at 7:54 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. cdor Member

    For the most part, I like it when Congress does nothing. Politicians of all stripes seem to believe that doing something always involves spending other peoples money.

    • #8
    • June 9, 2019, at 8:07 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    cdor (View Comment):

    For the most part, I like it when Congress does nothing. Politicians of all stripes seem to believe that doing something always involves spending other peoples money.

    I agree regarding legislation, @cdor. Except their “doing nothing” is spent attacking Donald Trump full-time, @cdor. That’s pathetic. I hope at least the Democrat voters see that.

    • #9
    • June 9, 2019, at 8:10 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. philo Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment): Both parties are deeply corrupt.

    Irredeemably so. 

    And, while not universal, don’t underestimate the overall number and extent to which many are personally corrupt. (Hint: Start at the top and with committee leadership positions.)

    I would have to go looking for it but I remember someone citing a study that showed that congress critters (and staffers, I think) not only consistently and significantly outperform the market but even out perform hedge fund managers. No, nothing to see here…

    • #10
    • June 9, 2019, at 9:03 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Percival Thatcher

    Voting for incumbents is a bad habit.

    The old saw has it that congressmen and diapers should be changed frequently, and for the same reason.

    • #11
    • June 9, 2019, at 9:45 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  12. cdor Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):

    For the most part, I like it when Congress does nothing. Politicians of all stripes seem to believe that doing something always involves spending other peoples money.

    I agree regarding legislation, @cdor. Except their “doing nothing” is spent attacking Donald Trump full-time, @cdor. That’s pathetic. I hope at least the Democrat voters see that.

    I am convinced that Democrat voters live in a universe of opposite polarity to mine. 

    • #12
    • June 9, 2019, at 10:17 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Rodin Member

    I pleased with not passing laws. I just wish they would be more active on repealing laws. “Oversight” has been a sham for decades. Ineffective when needed, annoying when unneeded. We don’t need term limits so much as limiting the numbers of legislative days, staff sizes, commissions, etc.

    • #13
    • June 9, 2019, at 10:42 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Rodin (View Comment):

    I pleased with not passing laws. I just wish they would be more active on repealing laws. “Oversight” has been a sham for decades. Ineffective when needed, annoying when unneeded. We don’t need term limits so much as limiting the numbers of legislative days, staff sizes, commissions, etc.

    So true, @rodin! Although we’re not repealing laws, we’re supposedly getting rid of tons of regulations. But of course, we have Trump to thank for that–not Congress. If they had their way, they’d be piling on even more regulations. Thanks.

    • #14
    • June 9, 2019, at 10:44 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Aaron Miller Member

    Susan Quinn: a bipartisan public lands measure

    What’s that

    The bill combines more than 100 separate bills that designate more than 350 miles of river as wild and scenic and create nearly 700,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas. The bill also withdraws 370,000 acres in Montana and Washington state from mineral development.

    Republicans, you worthless…! 

    • #15
    • June 9, 2019, at 10:49 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: a bipartisan public lands measure

    What’s that?

    The bill combines more than 100 separate bills that designate more than 350 miles of river as wild and scenic and create nearly 700,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas. The bill also withdraws 370,000 acres in Montana and Washington state from mineral development.

    Republicans, you worthless…!

    Good grief! Good catch, @aaronmiller! Now I’m even more depressed. Thanks.

    • #16
    • June 9, 2019, at 10:53 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    As I have said before, Congress has outsourced its ability to legeslate to the Executive which does it via regulations. 

    As POTUS, I’d suspend every single regulation not written into specific code at my inagural address. 

    • #17
    • June 9, 2019, at 10:56 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  18. Arahant Member

    Rodin (View Comment):

    I pleased with not passing laws. I just wish they would be more active on repealing laws. “Oversight” has been a sham for decades. Ineffective when needed, annoying when unneeded. We don’t need term limits so much as limiting the numbers of legislative days, staff sizes, commissions, etc.

    Two weeks every other year?

    • #18
    • June 9, 2019, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Barfly Member

    Susan Quinn: What in the World is Congress Doing?

    One good insight into your question, albeit not quite an answer, comes from an analysis linked by another seemingly unrelated Ricochet post today. 

    This article (worth reading) presents a sorting of the electorate along the orthogonal axes of security and diversity. It finds that the same realignment both elected PDT in the US and generated Brexit in the UK.

    That tells me we might draw lessons for our situation by observing theirs. More observation is always good, but especially because it’s easier to faithfully observe another than oneself. Lord Ashcroft advances a corollary that explains the UK’s failure to execute:

    Many Remain voters deserted the Conservatives because of Brexit. But most of the Leave-voting former Labour voters who were supposed to take their place refused to fall into line with what they saw as the party of cuts. Wild horses wouldn’t get them to abandon their tribe and vote Tory, however much they supported Brexit. The result is the hung parliament, and the resulting deadlock over Brexit that we have seen ever since.

    I’ll summarize what I take from that: Globalization gradually shifted the center of power from the center to the more-well-off and more-culturally-diverse. The electorate’s response to this shift would optimally be to be to shift representative strength to offset the trend, but there are many factors (tribalism, the need for money to campaign, ownership of mass media, voter fraud and other corruption, …) that dampen the response. Some of those factors would slow any response and so would cut either way, but others are stronger in the left’s direction. None of them particularly favor the right. 

    So congressional representation today lags behind the popular will, and that’s all the answer I can give you. That’s good news – if it’s true then we just have to keep it up for a few more years. We are making progress – Flake and Corker are gone and Good Mitt Romney is the merest gadfly by comparison. Lindsay Graham found his voice. Mitch McConnell is laying a generational foundation in the judiciary.

    I try not to worry too much about the House – if we can fix the issue with Californian vote harvesting then we can take it back next time.

    [Sponsored by Samuel Smith’s Pure Brewed Organic Lager Beer and by Lord Ashcroft’s insightful analysis linked from Mr. Nick’s post.]

    • #19
    • June 9, 2019, at 12:25 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. DonG Coolidge

    Arahant (View Comment):

     

    5: To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

    Notice what isn’t there?

    Everything that is not listed “isn’t there”. What in particular are you referring too?

    • #20
    • June 9, 2019, at 12:32 PM PDT
    • Like
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Some of those factors would slow any response and so would cut either way, but others are stronger in the left’s direction. None of them particularly favor the right. 

    So congressional representation today lags behind the popular will, and that’s all the answer I can give you. That’s good news – if it’s true then we just have to keep it up for a few more years. We are making progress – Flake and Corker are gone and Good Mitt Romney is the merest gadfly by comparison. Lindsay Graham found his voice. Mitch McConnell is laying a generational foundation in the judiciary.

    I try not to worry too much about the House – if we can fix the issue with Californian vote harvesting then we can take it back next time.

    Thanks, @barfly. I’m not clear about your meaning, though. If the response could go either way, but is strong in the left’s direction (not the right), what leads you go believe that the “catching up” will be done by the right? I do see those positive signs, and certainly the left is floundering terribly right now, but besides McConnell and Graham, who will lead the way on our side?

    • #21
    • June 9, 2019, at 12:34 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    DonG (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

     

    5: To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

    Notice what isn’t there?

    Everything that is not listed “isn’t there”. What in particular are you referring too?

    @dong, I assumed (and could be wrong) that the only taxes the Constitution seems to refer to are income taxes. I think we’ve accumulated just a few more than that.

    • #22
    • June 9, 2019, at 12:44 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Barfly Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    If the response could go either way, but is strong in the left’s direction (not the right), what leads you go believe that the “catching up” will be done by the right?

    I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. Let me take that in two steps:

    The natural response of the system should be to shift representation to resist the economic and cultural shift away from the center, and so act towards correcting the imbalance. All those factors I listed all act to slow the electorate’s response, however, so it takes a while for Congressional representation to shift, then longer still to pull power back to the center. That’s my basic conclusion.

    Then, on top of that, add that some of the dampers work even stronger on rightward motion than they would on leftward motion. That makes it even harder for the less-financed and less-diverse quarter to pull representation their way. That was the left-right part of my conclusion.

    As for why we’ll catch up – I think that because we are catching up. I think we’ll keep the Presidency and Senate, and barring major vote fraud we’ll take the House. And even if we do lose the House (again) to corruption, that’ll merely speed up the process. The left is already self-destructing. 

    • #23
    • June 9, 2019, at 12:46 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Barfly (View Comment):
    As for why we’ll catch up – I think that because we are catching up. I think we’ll keep the Presidency and Senate, and barring major vote fraud we’ll take the House. And even if we do lose the House (again) to corruption, that’ll merely speed up the process. The left is already self-destructing. 

    Got it! Thanks!

    • #24
    • June 9, 2019, at 12:48 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. The Reticulator Member

    Rodin (View Comment):

    I pleased with not passing laws. I just wish they would be more active on repealing laws. “Oversight” has been a sham for decades. Ineffective when needed, annoying when unneeded. We don’t need term limits so much as limiting the numbers of legislative days, staff sizes, commissions, etc.

    I prefer term limits on both legislators and staffs. Reduction in staff size would be OK, too.

    • #25
    • June 9, 2019, at 1:01 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I prefer term limits on both legislators and staffs. Reduction in staff size would be OK, too.

    I never have supported term limits, but after the past few years, I think we need to set them on legislators, and staff should be rotated out, too. Too much power is left in their hands. Reduction in size is a definitely yes.

    • #26
    • June 9, 2019, at 1:04 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. cdor Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I prefer term limits on both legislators and staffs. Reduction in staff size would be OK, too.

    I never have supported term limits, but after the past few years, I think we need to set them on legislators, and staff should be rotated out, too. Too much power is left in their hands. Reduction in size is a definitely yes.

    Term limits works pretty well for the President. Why not Congress and the Supremes as well?

    • #27
    • June 9, 2019, at 1:23 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    cdor (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I prefer term limits on both legislators and staffs. Reduction in staff size would be OK, too.

    I never have supported term limits, but after the past few years, I think we need to set them on legislators, and staff should be rotated out, too. Too much power is left in their hands. Reduction in size is a definitely yes.

    Term limits works pretty well for the President. Why not Congress and the Supremes as well?

    Doesn’t Richard Epstein support a 12 year limit for SCOTUS?

    • #28
    • June 9, 2019, at 1:24 PM PDT
    • Like
  29. cdor Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I prefer term limits on both legislators and staffs. Reduction in staff size would be OK, too.

    I never have supported term limits, but after the past few years, I think we need to set them on legislators, and staff should be rotated out, too. Too much power is left in their hands. Reduction in size is a definitely yes.

    Term limits works pretty well for the President. Why not Congress and the Supremes as well?

    Doesn’t Richard Epstein support a 12 year limit for SCOTUS?

    I do not know, but it is surprising that he isn’t right here participating in the comments, as he usually does. Ha ha! 

    • #29
    • June 9, 2019, at 1:31 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  30. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Raise and provide public money and oversee its proper expenditure

    The actual text regarding money is:

    5: To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

    Notice what isn’t there?

    That is quite interesting. I will make the assumption that those tasks you point to do not include overseeing a Fed budget. I will assume that the states were the entities that should be agreeing to budgets and overseeing expenditures.

    • #30
    • June 9, 2019, at 3:32 PM PDT
    • Like
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