Recent polls have indicated that Americans don’t think very highly of the current congress. A 2013 poll put American’s approval of our legislative body at less than our approval of head lice and cockroaches. A more recent poll says that congress is less popular than the almost universally hated Star Wars character, Jar Jar Binks. But why, exactly, is congress so despised? Rachel Maddow has some ideas.
On the July 25 edition of The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow gives viewers a glimpse into the workings of the current congress. Maddow’s poster boy for congress is recently elected Florida congressman Curt Clawson, a Tea Party Republican. Clawson, who replaced the cocaine using Trey Radel, actually addressed two American officials of Indian descent as if they were representatives of the Indian government at a recent subcommittee hearing.
Clawson: I am familiar with your country. I love your country. And I am hopeful with the new change in regime that the future in the land of promise and the land of opportunity of India can finally become so. …So just as your capital is welcome here to produce good paying jobs in the U.S., I’d like our capital to be welcome there, and there to be freedom of capital, so that both sides are on the same territory. And I ask cooperation, and commitment, and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?
A bemused Nisha Biswal, who works at the U.S. Department of State, replies:
I think your question is to the Indian government, and we certainly share your sentiments, and we certainly will advocate that on behalf of the U.S. government.
Stupid is as stupid does.
Sadly, Clawson is only one of many examples of laziness, ignorance, or downright stupidity in congress. The U.S. House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans that would make the Know Nothing party of the 1800’s seriously consider changing their name. Thanks in part to this vein of willful ignorance, and the hyper-partisanship that accompanies it, things that were once considered routine tasks for congress are now monumental chores.
One of these routine tasks is the approval of ambassadors. Thanks to partisan bickering in the Senate, one quarter of U.S. embassies around the world have no ambassador at the current time. Maddow points out that out of the three Central American countries that are responsible for the current refugee crisis in the southern U.S., one, Guatemala, has no U.S. ambassador. She also notes that there is currently no U.S. ambassador in Russia; another country where, in light of recent events, most would agree that we need one. McClatchy DC reports that because Senate Republicans are angry that majority leader Harry Reid changed the filibuster rules, they are refusing to grant unanimous consent to proceed on confirmation votes. This means that the simple act of voting to approve an ambassador can take eight hours or more.
On the other side of the Capitol, the House of Representatives works such a light schedule that it appears to simply not have the time to do the business of governing. The House scheduled 126 work days in 2013. In 2014, that number dropped to 113. Soon, the House will be leaving for its August recess, likely leaving unfinished legislation to fix the problems at the Veterans’ Administration. This is a problem that members proclaimed would get fixed, and would not be subject to partisanship.
Will ‘vacay’ trump ‘VA’ in importance to House members?
Both the House and the Senate have passed their own versions of bills to fix problems at the VA. But there has been no progress in the conference committee that is working on reconciling the two bills. Why? According to Maddow, the House doesn’t want to spend the money that the Senate is proposing, and apparently that is the sticking point. So there has been no action on the legislation for some six weeks. Maddow comments:
The work is 95 percent done. But, because it is this congress, apparently they cannot finish it.
She summarizes by saying:
There are four working days between now and when congress pats itself on the back for having done nothing, and takes more than a month off. They have left more undone than any other congress in the history of the United States of America. Including our basic responsibility to have American ambassadors around the world. But even for a congress this failed, and this reviled by the American people for it, the one thing they all say they supposedly care about, and they supposedly want to get done, is take care of our veterans. And fix the outrageous problems they all were complaining about, in which veterans were not getting care. Congress now has four days to do it. All of the major veterans organizations in the country say it looks like it’s not going to happen unless something changes.
…This congress is, quantitatively speaking, the worst congress ever. But if they cannot get this done, if they cannot get it done for veterans, they are not only worse than ever before, they are worse than anyone thought possible.
That’s the bad news. The worse news is that nothing is likely to change, either before or after this year’s election. Historically, going back to 1964, voters have consistently returned over 80 percent of incumbents to the House. In some election cycles almost 100 percent of incumbents have been reelected. The reelection rate to the Senate is somewhat lower, but still around 80 percent. Gallup says that there is a good chance that many incumbents will lose this fall. But will it be enough to make a difference, or will Americans be stuck with two more years of a congress that Americans rate lower than cockroaches or Jar Jar Binks?
Maddow on GOP Congress: Should we get out and push?
Here’s the video, from The Rachel Maddow Show:
Photo: Screen grab via TRMS.