The US Capitol as photographed by Flickr user Robert Hensley.
The 113th United States Congress got together at the beginning of this year to start the difficult task of governing the Most Powerful Nation of All Time. The Senate and the House of Representatives were tasked with writing new laws that would help solve the myriad problems facing the USA and negotiating compromises between the two parties, both of which controlled a chamber of Congress and therefore couldn’t do anything without the other. It was a difficult task, but of course the people elected these men and women for their superior wisdom, and they were therefore the lawmakers best suited to move the country forward.
Ha ha, no, just kidding. The 113th Congress is, by almost any objective standard, the worst Congress of all time. So far, it’s even more unpopular and inefficient than the 112th Congress, which was the least liked and least productive of all time until the 113th came along. When it comes to all the big stuff that really matters (immigration reform, getting the House and Senate together on a budget bill), lawmakers haven’t done shit all year.
Now, like a stoned college student going on vacation after failing his finals, Congress is leaving a mess behind while it takes off for its August recess. (Lawmakers need a vacation after their exhausting three-day workweeks.) When it comes back, it will have to do something quickly to stop the federal government from shutting down and defaulting on its debts. It’ll probably try to pass a temporary measure known as a continuing resolution to keep everything running, but even that might be difficult thanks to the deep divides not just between Democrats and Republicans, but between far-right Tea Partiers, who won’t vote for anything but a repeal of Obamacare, and the rest of the GOP. We’ve reached the point where getting these guys to agree that the government should exist at all is a tall order.
While our esteemed legislators have failed to enact any major legislation so far this year, it’s not fair to say that they’ve done nothing. Both chambers have been voting on bills and even passing them—it's just that the state of gridlock means that pratically nothing of substance has gotten accomplished in the seven months the current Congress has been in office. For a closer look, here's a summary of the 22 bills that have turned into law this year:
One Law Let the Government Function for a Little While Longer
HR 325, a.k.a. the No Budget, No Pay Act was passed in February and temporarily raised the debt ceiling until May. It also suspended the salaries of members of Congress until they worked out a budget for 2014. The idea was to force legislators to come to an agreement over what the government should pay for, but of course that hasn’t happened yet and we’re now facing exactly the same problem we were when HR 325 went into effect.
One Law Was a Routine Spending Bill
HR 933 allocated funds to the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, and some other agencies. There were also some provisions in there that were extremely beneficial to infamous agribusiness giant Monsanto. The good news is that all those pro-Monsanto bits will expire, along with the rest of HR 933, in September, at which point Congress will have to get its act together enough to pass more spending bills. Which is bad news.
Two Laws Were Devoted to Renaming Stuff
Thanks to HR 2289 and HR 2383, respectively, a section of the tax code is now called the Kay Bailey Hutchison Spousal IRA and a bridge in St. Louis is named after baseball star Stan Musial. Woooo.
Without the hard work of Congress, this bridge would be called something totally different. Screenshot via
Two Laws Awarded Medals to People or Things
Congress took time off from naming things to give Congressional Gold Medals to the First Special Service Force (a group of American and Canadian volunteers) for their service during World War II and to the little girls who were murdered in a 1963 anti-Civil Rights bombing of a church. Good stuff, no doubt, but laws that renamed things or awarded medals made up a whopping 18 percent of all the laws passed so far by the 113th.
One Law Was Renewed the Violence Against Women Act
It took more than a year, but Congress finally renewed the Violence Against Women Act. It was pretty much a no-brainer, but even passing a reauthorization of an existing piece of legislation was a fucking adventure—House Republicans had a problem with how non-Native Americans would get treated on reservations, or something.
One Law Concerned the Response of the Federal Government to Health Crises
Thanks to HR 307, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will have to “submit the National Health Security Strategy to the relevant congressional committees in 2014.” Also, the strategy’s “preparedness goals” have been revised. Fuck yes.
Two Laws Involved Hydropower in Utah
HR 251 and HR 254 “give Utahns more of a say over the resources and entities affecting our state,” according to Orrin Hatch, who sponsored the bills in the Senate. Apparently some stuff that was operated by the federal government will now be run by the South Utah Valley Electric Service District.
Orrin Hatch helped pass some legislation involving hydropower in Utah that I honestly don't really 100 percent understand. Photo via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
Two Laws Were Responses to Superstorm Sandy
Congress overcame the normal state of total gridlock to increase National Flood Insurance funds and allow agencies to spend more on disaster assistance, which is sort of the minimum response from a government a few months after a devastating storm hits the country’s most densely populated area.
One Law Was a Rewording of a Previously Struck Down Law
Last year, the Supreme Court took a look at the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which made it illegal to lie about having a military medal. This was fantastically unconstitutional—lying is covered by the First Amendment in most situations—and it got struck down. So Congress went back to its drawing board and reworded the law, making it illegal to profit from lying about military medals. As we all know, this was a pressing problem in the US.
The Remaining Nine Laws Were Even Less Important than Those Above:
- HR 588 allows the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to acknowledge donor contributions, which will make fundraising easier.
- HR 1151 is devoted to telling the Secretary of State to please try and let Taiwan attend the next International Civil Aviation Organization Assembly as an observer.
- HR 1071 modifies the specs for gold and silver coins made to commemorate the Baseball Hall of Fame.
- S 716 is a minor tweak to rules about financial disclosure for members of Congress.
- HR 1246 specifies what happens in case the Washington DC CFO dies or resigns (the deputy CFO takes over).
- HR 475 adds seasonal flu vaccines to the list of taxable vaccines.
- S 622 reauthorizes the FDA to collect fees related to reviewing and approving drugs for animals.
- HR 1765 allows the FAA to move some money around so they can keep paying workers, including air traffic controllers.
- S 982 (a.k.a. the Freedom to Fish Act) stops the Army Corps of Engineers from blocking fishing access on part of the Cumberland River in Tennessee and Kentucky.
It’s true that for a faction of the GOP, not getting stuff done is the whole point, and some House Republicans will probably spend their August recess bragging about how they saved America from destruction at the hands of immigration reform. But even the wackiest wackjob in Congress wants something—that’s one of the reasons they all ran for office in the first place. Some of their wants conflict with the agendas of other lawmakers, so they have to negotiate with each other and come to a mutually unsatisfying agreement. That’s how the American political system works. That’s the only way it can work. Except it’s not working at all right now, except when it comes to commemorative coins and fishing in Kentucky.
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