The United States Congress is an organization comprised of patriotically-motivated men and women that, with the approval of the voting public, are meant to walk dutifully into their respective committees and organizations and deliberate on new bills. With so many responsibilities to uphold and mountains of paperwork to trudge through, Congress has been an integral part of this country’s three-branched governmental backbone for centuries.
That is what Congress is meant to be.
Instead, what we have had to suffer through from the beginning of 2013 is a Congress that is one of the most unproductive in this country’s history. That may sound like an exaggeration, but it is unfortunately true; Congress has only voted on 1,310 bills and resolutions out of 10,238 total, and from said 1,310 bills, only 142 have actually become laws. This means that a whopping 87 percent of the job is still left undone, even though the 113th Congress is already halfway through its session.
Yes: 87 percent. If a fast food employee decided one day to put their hands on their hips and do only 13 percent of their job, they would be fired without any further consideration. But paradoxically, Congress accomplishes less as time goes on and still receives the same salary, with some congressmen like Representative Jim Moran from Virginia asserting that, “members of Congress are underpaid”.
These statistics may be selling Congress a little short. Neglecting the majority of a job does still mean that a smidgen of it is being done, after all, and indeed the 113th Congress has been championing some substantial changes. Of these are numerous budget cuts to programs like food stamps, the government shutdown that stripped numerous federal employees of their wages and most recently the conservative bid to sue President Obama over a change in the application period for the Affordable Care Act.
The above does seem to conveniently ignore the other laws that serendipitously sailed their way through the treacherous waters of the approval process, but even then, the majority of the bills passed have simply been self-regulatory bills that ensure that federally-subsidized services can continue chugging along.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the whole affair is the fact that it is a result of both Republican stubbornness and Democratic inactivity. Republican Congressmen absolutely refuse to acknowledge anything that even slightly goes against their limited laundry list of interests, while Democratic Congressmen mostly just shrug their shoulders and refuse to make amendments to bills introduced to the Senate, dooming their chances in the House and thus wasting more time.
With these shortcomings in mind, coupled with abysmal approval ratings from the public and from within Congress itself, it would be plausible to assume that these intelligent elected officials would be trying their hardest to come together and cooperate for the good of themselves and for the good of the country as a whole.
Nope! Instead, following their 5-week summer vacation, representatives from both the House and the Senate have made public statements asserting that all legislative work has been put on hold to allow Congress time to campaign for the upcoming elections in November, further ruining any possibility of progress being made.
As a college student in California, it may not seem like the power struggles of crusty politicians all the way over in Washington D.C. are all that concerning. However, pieces of legislation like S. 2292, which would have decreased the interest rate on federal student loans, have fallen through the cracks as a result of congressional quarreling. Numerous bills that would have given equal pay to employees regardless of race or gender, like S. 2199, have also been stalled or completely forgotten thanks to conservative intervention.
Congress’s problems are slowly becoming our problems, and there’s no visible light at the end of the tunnel. In a perfect world, a quick fix to this problem would be to have empowered American citizens write impassioned letters to their congresspeople as a collective disciplinary finger wag, but unfortunately, that has already been done to no effect. The most immediate solution would be to vote in a supermajority for either the House or the Senate in the November midterm elections, but the chances of that actually happening are incredibly slim and would still not guarantee that bills would be deliberated upon in a satisfactory or timely manner.
The 113th Congress is a big, hot mess and there’s no simple way to fix it. If we’re lucky, the potential shift in positions that will follow the November elections will miraculously allow for some congressional cohesion, but that remains to be seen. Until then, the best we can do is stay optimistic and pray that Congress does not honor the one-year anniversary of 2013’s shutdown with yet another shutdown.
Evan Siegel is a first-year literary journalism major. He can be reached at email@example.com.