Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Liberals: Take the votes you can get

The quagmire in Congress continues through another arduous summer and into a fall legislative session that would daunt even the most productive legislators. Since mid-May, when the U.S. government reached the $16.699 trillion debt ceiling, the Treasury Department has employed “extraordinary measures” to meet government responsibilities and maintain the full faith and credit required by the Constitution for the second time in two years.

The status of appropriations bills in the House and Senate is dismal. Of the 13 bills which appropriate funds to the various executive departments, only five have been voted on by the full House and one by the full Senate. These bills must be passed to continue funding the government on and after Oct. 1, which is around the time when the Treasury’s “extraordinary measures” on the debt ceiling become insufficient.

Accordingly, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have decided to hold both the full faith and credit and the operational capability of the federal government hostage. What’s the ransom? Every single penny allocated to Obamacare!

Not only do Republicans want to implement $109 billion in sequestration cuts in October, they want to eliminate the insurance exchanges set to open this fall (which 27 GOP-run states refused to open, giving that responsibility to the hated federal government), stop covering preexisting conditions and return to an era when women could be charged nearly twice as much for health insurance just because they are women, as original sin would dictate.

In fact, the current 113th Congress is on pace to become the least productive Congress in history, after (big surprise) the previous 112th Congress. Harry Truman won reelection to his second term in 1948, calling the 80th Congress the “Do-Nothing” Congress; it had only passed 906 laws. The 112th Congress passed 220 laws, including 23 in the first six months of 2011.

The 113th Congress has passed just 15 laws since January.

In fact, the “Do-Nothing” Congress passed legislation still widely applied in American government today. They passed the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, the post-Roosevelt Presidential Succession Act, the National Security Act of 1947, which reorganized the entire military and intelligence bureaucracy. The “Do-Nothing” Congress even managed to pass its farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 1948, something beyond the capability of the 113th Congress.

There is, however, a silver lining in the dismal state of the U.S. Congress: compromise, collaboration and bipartisanship. In early 2013, immediately post-fiscal cliff, there was a small movement in the Republican Party to remove Boehner as Speaker of the House. It went nowhere, but certainly showed the fragile state of the GOP.

By gerrymandering House districts in 2011, the GOP created its very own monster, the ultraconservative, a representative that requires neither cross-party support nor diversity among his or her voters to win elections. These actors believe that federal disaster relief for hurricanes, using federal money to pave highways and build bridges and new public schools are dangerous examples of the overreach of a bloated, menacing, “Big Brother”-esque, take-away-your-guns-and–kill-Grandma-to–save-money kind of federal government.

The reaction to such insanity, best epitomized in the fictional Will McAvoy from HBO’s “The Newsroom,” is simple: there are Republicans embarrassed to share a party with Tea Party fascists. Amazingly, some of these Republicans manage to serve in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. However, many more, such as former Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and former Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH) have left Congress because their views are not respected or considered. If the GOP holds government hostage to the bitter, politically-devastating end seemingly professed by its leaders, the likelihood of moderate GOP members defecting to a Democrat-sponsored budget deal grows.

In fact, the national security core of Congress has already seen many defections regarding privacy this year. Bipartisanship on the fringes is growing, with libertarians like Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) joining forces with liberals like Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Mike Capuano on reforming the domestic spying programs of the National Security Agency (NSA).

Paul and Leahy have become a civil libertarian team working on the aforementioned NSA issue, as well as attempting to reform the justice system’s mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenders and rescind parts of the PATRIOT Act. Attorney General Holder recently enacted some executive branch reforms for mandatory minimums, but the Paul-Leahy Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 still languishes in Congress.

While the overall trend of Congressional gridlock, partisanship and inability to govern creates severe uncertainty both politically and economically, liberals and libertarians actually agree on drug reforms, justice reform, national security reform, LGBT rights, the right to choose, the right to privacy, the protections of the First Amendment and protecting the right to vote for all citizens. If Democrats were to compromise with 25 Republicans in the House and five in the Senate, they could push through an ambitious and paradigm-shifting agenda reforming our world-leading prison system, ending the overreach of the corporate-military-intelligence complex, securing the equality of LGBT citizens, ensuring safe access to reproductive care and reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act.

That agenda may be out of reach, especially considering GOP-control over rules and operations in the House, but if Senators keep compromising and those compromises die in the House, the GOP will face a reckoning in the 2014 midterms. For now, Democrats in Congress and the President can only do one thing: bide their time and take the votes they can get.

Zac Bears is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @zac_bears.

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    James SantucciSep 4, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Two quibbles:

    Isn’t “laws passed” a sort of bizarre metric for measuring productivity in Congress? I’d think a Congress that included in its 15 of 2013 “the size of the precious-metal blank that will be used in the production of the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins” ( shouldn’t be rewarded simply for passing more laws, or rather I think that public perception shouldn’t shift if this Congress fails to pass simply more laws. I guess what I’d like is for you to talk about some “good” Congresses so we can compare to how many laws they pass. Shouldn’t it be the case over time that we have to pass fewer laws?

    And –

    There was, as far as I could tell, a pretty serious movement in the GOP against bargaining with ACA Repeal as part of the deal. Do you have a source for defunding being a mainstream GOP movement? Everything I’d read suggested it was mainly Cruz and Coburn shouting vitriol from an island.