OK, this is going to be one of those posts that sounds like the insane rantings of an angry wanna-be policy wonk. Probably because that’s exactly what this is. I am angry and I know just enough about law and government to have a pretty good idea of why I’m angry. And my anger has nothing to do with Herman Cain’s stance on immigration or Mitt Romney’s religion or whether the Occupy Wall Street movement has any similarities to the Tea Party movement. I am angry because we have a Congress that is acting with either gross negligence of their duties or gross incompetence. I WISH it was incompetence, because that would be an excuse for the level of shit that’s NOT getting done on Capitol Hill.
So here’s the quick and dirty on the job of Congress: they write and agree to laws. Them and only them. The President does not write laws and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. The President gives final approval to laws written by Congress. Or he doesn’t. But usually he does. He can make suggestions, aid in the writing process, talk to Congress about what he thinks should be done, but at the end of the day, lawmaking is on them. Each Chamber writes their version, they vote on them, talk about them together in conference, vote again, and send it off to the President. It’s their job. It’s what they do.
Or rather, it’s what they fit in Tuesday-Thursday, two weeks out of three. The rest of the time they raise money.
I’m not making that up. I’m not even exaggerating. This is a link to the House calendar. Note the preponderance of “constituent work weeks”. That means time that they’re supposed to go home and make time to listen to us. But instead they spend the time holding $500 a plate dinners to raise money so they can keep the jobs they’re too busy fundraising and stonewalling to do. And anyone who’s ever tried to make an appintment to see their legislator on the Hill knows they they stroll into the office mid-day Tuesday, start voting at 6 or so Tuesday night, do business Wednesday and part of Thursday then skedaddle back home to suck up to more donors. They spend more time talking about their jobs than doing their jobs. If the rest of did that, we’d get fucking fired.
And you all wonder why I get so worked up about the state of campaign finance. Not only is it creating an inequality in the influence of average voters, but it’s keeping lawmakers from making laws.
Anyway, back to my little civics lesson, and my apologies to everyone who already knows this shit. But for everyone who spent high school social studies writing poetry and doodling instead of paying attention (read: me) I’m happy to give the refresher course. Essentially there are two kinds of laws Congress can make: authorizations and appropriations. Authorization take many forms, but basically they create or revise and extend government programs or regulations. The much-maligned Affordable Care Act was an authorizing law. The Dodd-Frank banking regulation law was an authorization. No Child Left Behind was an authorization of education programs and Congress should have passed a reauthorization – preferably with myriad reforms to make it not suck – but they haven’t. Because they’re a bunch of pussies who didn’t want to take the heat of dealing with an unpopular bill in an election year even though education is a fucking disaster and that misbegotten pile of excrement we call NCLB is largely to blame for turning schools into a funding source for he $1 billion a year testing industry at the expense of our children’s creativity and joy in learning, not to mention the havoc it’s wrought on school budgets and the hogtying of teachers into teaching to the fucking tests and…
Back to Congress. The other kind of law they pass is appropriations. Those are the bills that tell federal agencies how much money they have to spend on programs. There are supposed to be twelve authorizations passed every year. In my clearly-not-humble opinion, those twelve bills are the most important thing that Congress needs to to every year because without them, we have these absurd showdowns over spending that brings the whole government to the brink of shutdown before they pass an extender to keep the money flowing for another few week and pat themselves on their smug fucking backs for doing shit they should have done anyway.
In the past 12 months, you want to know how many regular appropriations bills Congress has passed? Zero. Hell, the Senate hasn’t even passed a budget establishing funding levels. For two years they haven’t done it and don’t look for a budget out of them in 2012. Can’t be passing budgets in an election year, doncha know. Might hurt their reelection chances. Fuckers.
Oh, wait this gets better.
We’re currently 10 months into the first session of the 112th Congress. A Congress lasts two years so this Congress is nearly half-way over. In an average Congress, they generate between 300 and 500 laws that are voted on by both Chambers and approves by the Preisdent. Wanna know how many they’ve passed so far this Congress? 39.
Of those 39 laws, 4 were appointments to the board of regents for the Smithsonian, 8 were naming buildings, 11 were extending existing laws, and 4 were continuing resolutions in lieu of real appropriations bill. They passed a bill to fund the defense department too. So yeah. There were only 13 or so original peices of legislation developed by this Congress and NO APPROPRIATIONS BILLS AT ALL.
I can maybe buy the argument that authorizations aren’t always necessary. It is possible that someone could look at our slate of existing laws and say “Yeah. We’re all good.’ and walk away. But skipping the appropriations process? Unconscionable.
This not to say no legislation has been written. We hear all the time about crack-pot fucking bills that the House passes because their plan seems to be to fly in, pass something that would damage women’s health care access, and run home to brag about it to campaign donors, leaving the Senate to put those bills where they belong: in the trash. But those are publicity stunts, political posturing, they stand no chance of ever being law because they’d get shot down in the Senate or vetoed in the Oval Office. They’re not real. They aren’t meant to help Americans: they’re meant to help legislators who prefer to operate as perpetual candidates than as real leaders.
These 535 people are not helping us. They’re not working for us. They’re not even trying. They’re trying to keep their jobs. That’s all they’re doing. And I hate it. I hate it because I live in this country. My son has to grow up in this country. I care about this country. I don’t know how to fix this. I wish I did. I hope someone does because something has to change. It has to.