Two years ago, I jumped on USA Today for stating that the 112th Congress was the “least productive” since the end of World War II.
My argument was very straightforward. It’s better to have no legislation than bad legislation. Here’s some of what I wrote about USA Today’s hypothesis.
…it does blindly assume that it is productive to impose more laws. Was it productive to enact Obamacare? What about the faux stimulus? Or the Dodd-Frank bailout bill? Wouldn’t the headline be more accurate if it read, “This Congress could be least destructive since 1947″? …To be sure, not all legislation is bad. …Congress would have to enact a law to repeal Obamacare. Laws also would need to be changed to reform entitlements, or adopt a flat tax. And some laws are benign, such as the enactment of Dairy Goat Awareness Week or naming a federal courthouse. But I’m guessing that the vast majority of substantive laws are bad for freedom and result in less prosperity.
One year ago, I criticized the Washington Post, which complained that the 1st Session of the 113th Congress wasn’t productive. Here are a few excerpts from that column.
Do you think that additional laws from Washington will give you more freedom and more prosperity? …I strongly suspect most Americans will say “no.” …That’s because taxpayers instinctively understand that more activity in Washington usually translates into bigger and more expensive government. …The first session of the current Congress may have been the “least productive” in history when it comes to imposing new laws, but…that “record-low congressional accomplishment” translates into a smaller burden of government spending. Indeed, government spending actually has declined for two consecutive years. That hasn’t happened since the 1950s.
Well, this topic is my version of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, because it’s time to deal with the same silly arguments.
Only this time, we’re looking at the final data for the 113th Congress. But we’ll still mock media outlets for mindlessly equating legislation with productivity.
Politico groused that “…this Congress has been singularly unproductive, shutting down most government functions for two weeks last fall, passing the fewest bills in memory and lurching from crisis to crisis.”
The Hill whined that “…the last two sessions of Congress with divided government are the two most unproductive in history in terms of bills cleared by both chambers.”
And Dana Milbank of the Washington Post whimpered that “According to a tally by the Library of Congress, 296 bills were presented to the president by this Congress — nearly the same as the 284 presented by the previous Congress, the fewest of any Congress since the counts began in the 1940s. …More than 10 percent of the bills presented were about naming or renaming things and awarding medals.”
So what’s my reaction to these complaints? Well, here’s where my Groundhog Day analogy breaks down. In the movie, Bill Murray learns to change his responses to win the heart of Andie MacDowell.
Heck, I’d probably even be willing to double Congressional pay if lawmakers agreed to be even less “productive.” Maybe they could copy the Texas state legislature and only meet every other year, with a limit of being in session no more than 140 days!
Since I don’t really have anything new to add to the debate on legislative “productivity,” I may as well close today’s column by mocking another Washington shibboleth.
I wrote last year that “bipartisanship” isn’t always a wonderful thing, as is so often claimed in Washington. You have to look at the actual policies that are generated when Republicans and Democrats cooperate. And the track record isn’t very good.
Was TARP good legislation? Maybe for politically well-connected financial institutions, but not for taxpayers.
What about the supposedly bipartisan budget agreements of recent decades? In most cases, the result was that politicians banded together to take more money from taxpayers.
This doesn’t mean it’s always bad when the parties work together on an issue. Reagan’s economic program wouldn’t have passed Congress without a lot of support from Democrats. And transportation deregulation was a bipartisan operation during the Carter years, ably assisted by former Senator Ted Kennedy.
So my real message isn’t that bipartisanship is bad. Instead I’m simply saying that bipartisanship is akin to legislative productivity. You have to look at the legislation that’s being produced before you can make a reasoned assessment.
Now that we’ve made that serious point, let’s close with a couple of cartoons about the wrong kinds of bipartisanship.
Here’s Glenn McCoy with a scene from a school bathroom.
And here’s one from Lisa Benson, referencing the recently enacted “cromnibus.”
I don’t know the author of this final cartoon, but it’s also worth sharing.