Thursday, November 23, 2017
Opinion

Ruth: Doing nothing raised to a high art (w/video)

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Furious with President Barack Obama's declaration that he will rely on executive orders to advance his policies because the Maynard G. Krebs Congress refuses to show up on the job, the House of Representatives has lashed back by announcing it plans to do even less work on those rare occasions when the body isn't otherwise engaged in recesses, vacations and traveling on freeloading political junkets.

That ought to teach the White House a lesson.

Of course, threatening to do even more of nothing is no small accomplishment for a Congress that already shows fewer signs of life than an Easter Island stone carving. This isn't a Congress of the United States. It's the Weekend at Bernie's of the Capitol.

Days ago, Obama castigated House Republicans after Speaker John Boehner, R-The Beetle Bailey of Parliamentary Procedure, announced that it would be impossible to find any time — not even a spare five minutes — in the packed congressional schedule of holidays, sabbaticals and respites from the rigors of respirating, to schedule a vote on immigration reform. Too busy posing for the Fox News Poltroons of the Potomac Calendar?

Even though an immigration measure passed the U.S. Senate with a bipartisan vote, and even though polling data show broad public support, over in the House there is no time in July, August, September, October, November and into infinity to perform the work members of Congress were elected to do.

The 113th Congress is well on pace to become the most inert, comatose, inept, mother of do-nothing legislatures in the history of the United States. Or put another way, the members of Congress earn $174,000 a year to be less effective than the North Korean general assembly.

It is a very fair and practical question: What do these people do all day, or on the roughly 113 days they were scheduled to be in session this year, when they are not in repose, or sitting in a departure lounge, or on a retreat from the stresses of blinking?

There is the vital work to be done on such critical panels as the Committee of Grand Pronouncements, the Select Subcommittee of a Very Modern Major General and the Whey and Beans Committee, requiring stern-looking members to stride purposefully to and fro from one room to another stopping only long enough before the cameras to accuse the president of not living up to their Dagwood Bumstead gold standard of dillydallying.

Perhaps this is unfair. The 113th Congress has less to show for its labors than a 17-year locust, but it's not as if members haven't had a few accomplishments to crow about.

For example, last year your elected representatives passed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, which put an end to a little-known practice that made it perfectly legal for Washington pols to enhance their bank accounts by using the same insider trading that gets folks on Wall Street sent to the slammer.

This year, Congress came to its senses and very quietly approved, with no debate, a measure making enforcement of the insider trading law all but impossible. Let freedom ring.

But the legislative juggernaut was only just beginning. In another moment of shyness, the House Ethics Committee (stop laughing, there really is one) discreetly stripped away a provision requiring members of Congress to list privately sponsored travel on their annual financial disclosure forms. Members still have to disclose such travel to the House clerk's office within 15 days of the trip, but at least getting rid of the annual disclosure is a start toward reducing needless paperwork, not to mention irritating accountability. Let the eagles soar.

No time for immigration reform. No time to vote on a highway bill to improve roads and bridges. No time to address commonsense gun control. But more than plenty of time to evade ethical questions of insider trading and travel.

In his caustic, but accurate, remarks characterizing a tea-party-cowed Congress of having less initiative than J. Wellington Wimpy, Obama noted the best way to prevent him from issuing presidential executive orders was for the House to (egad!) report for duty and start voting on stuff.

The response from the House? Well, the House was off for its Fourth of July vacation. They'll need the time to reinvigorate themselves for the grueling 43 days left on the Washington legislative calendar before taking the rest of the year off in December.

Time waits for no man, unless you happen to be a member of Congress.

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