The 113th Congress and the dangers of Doing Nothing.

Author:Kramer, Robert
Position:WASHINGTON BEAT
 
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No doubt, many readers have heard that the 113th Congress is on track to be the least productive Congress on record, eclipsing the previous record holder, the 112th Congress (which passed just 220 bills through both chambers). The current Congress has passed 15 bills at the time of this writing, compared to 23 bills passed by its predecessor at the same point in 2011.

Certainly, a large part of this can be explained by the hyper-partisanship that has characterized congressional politics since the 2008 elections.

In addition, since the 2012 election the Obama administration has become decidedly bolder, refusing to negotiate on the debt ceiling; reaching out to moderate Senate Republicans instead of House leadership on key legislation like immigration reform and sequestration; and addressing important issues unilaterally through executive order and regulation, bypassing the obstreperous legislative process.

Whatever the proximate cause, should the American people be concerned that a "Do Nothing Congress" is bad for the nation? Or should Americans care, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggests, that: "we should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal?"

The reluctance of the legislative branch to pass laws has not precluded the executive and judicial branches from doing their jobs. Congressional inaction has elicited work-around solutions from the current administration, the regulators, the courts and state and local governments. Some evidence:

* One telling example is the Federal Reserve's response to the inability of the administration and Congress to agree on an economic recovery program after the 2010 elections. While Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke admitted that Fed actions were ultimately less effective than direct fiscal stimulus, the Fed stepped into the breach with an additional two rounds of quantitative easing, the last (QE III) tied directly to improvements in employment rates.

* On health care, while the House voted 40 times without success to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the struggle for its implementation shifted first to the Supreme Court and then to the states, where the administration is working with, or in some cases against, governors and/or state legislatures to roll out key elements of the law to meet 2014 implementation deadlines.

* With no prospect for getting a cap-and-trade or other carbon emissions bill through Congress, the administration, relying on the...

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