Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Part-Time Congress

Norm Ornstein has written an excellent op-ed in the WaPo that details the shortcomings of Congress when it comes to doing the nation's business.
The House should be well-rested to take on its daunting workload, after a generous recess (known officially as a "district work period") over President's Day. That was preceded by a recess for the entire month of January and by a February in which voting was done on all of three days (along with another three days with no votes before 6:30 p.m.).
Bear in mind that what he describes is not the reason this Congress is bad. His particulars are only symptoms, not the root cause. The reason this Congress sucks is because the Republican leadership makes it that way. The problem is not that members have to campaign all the time and raise lots of money -- the problem arises when the leadership allows that to get in the way of passing legislation in a timely manner. The problem is not that members prefer to stay in "recess" for weeks at a time -- the problem arises when "recess" replaces Congress's constitutional duties of oversight of the executive branch.
[T]he average Congress in the 1960s and '70s had 5,372 committee and subcommittee meetings; in the 1980s and 1990s, the average was 4,793. In the last Congress, the 108th, the number was 2,135. We do not have final figures yet for 2005, but they are likely to be lower yet, and with oversight practically nonexistent.
The problem isn't that Congress is more concerned with collecting campaign checks than it is with checks and balances among the three branches of government. The problem is with the people who run Congress.
Mention the part-time nature of this Congress to many people, and the reaction is, "Good, the less time they're in session, the less the danger to the country." Wrong. Congress does not do less -- it has its full impact on society -- it just does things in a shoddier way.


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