What if Congress had not convened this year?

(Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

With all the recent evidence of how dysfunctional Congress is, I’ve begun wondering, What if the 113th Congress had done nothing at all? What if the members of the 113th Congress had simply not shown up in January? What if they’d all stayed home to drink tea and play golf at their local country clubs? Where would we be today?

We’d be a less divided country, less suspicious of the other guy’s motives. We wouldn’t be wondering if our neighbors supported the other party, the one obviously responsible for tearing the country apart. We wouldn’t be watching our elected representatives fighting like school children instead of acting like responsible adults.

Confidence in our economy would still be improving as more people got jobs, interest rates stayed down, houses began to sell, the stock market strengthened, and we and other nations would be growing increasingly optimistic that things were indeed, finally, getting better.

Congress would still have a glowing 10% popularity rating instead of an unimaginably historically bad 5%.

We’d be without the 13 new laws that Congress has passed this year (including the Right to Fish Act, the Reducing Flight Delays Act, and an act specifying the size of the blanks used in the production of National Baseball Hall of Fame coins), none of which concerned jobs. And Congress wouldn’t be locked in battle over laws that have already been passed — like the Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March 2010 and subsequently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Our international reputation would not be suffering. Foreign nations would not be watching in horror, fear, or possibly glee, as the government of the world’s most powerful nation, already a circular firing squad, continues to fire.

The American people would not be marching in the streets because their jobs were yanked out from under them, their incomes cut off without warning, and their public services shut down.

The government’s lights would still be on and its wheels still turning. Congress’s most basic job is to keep the government running. But this Congress has deliberately turned off the lights and locked the wheels. They have deliberately and, some would say, with malice, stopped the functioning of selected (“non-essential”) segments of the U.S. government.

The shortcomings of this Congress are remarkably similar to those of the last Congress, which was deemed the “worst Congress ever” by the Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein. Except this Congress is 5% worse than that one.

And who is being hurt by all this? Who is paying the price? Not Congress, of course. They’re in charge. They fight their childish fights in marbled halls (that we paid for) while innocent Americans and the nation as a whole pay the price. It is they who should be losing their jobs, their staffs and offices, their health insurance, and every other perk they enjoy (not that they’d miss them). It is they who should be stripped of power (something they would miss) and sent packing in the next election.

In the meantime, as has been suggested here before in similar circumstances, they should all be locked in a room together and provided with only bread and water until they reach an agreement.

This chart was released in January 2013. Today’s 213th Congress is 5% less popular than this.

34 thoughts on “What if Congress had not convened this year?

  1. Good post, PT, and I agree with everything you say, but with one glaring exception. I cannot let it pass. (You can always count on me, right?)

    By blaming “Congress” you are deflecting blame from where it belongs, right square on the Tea Party radicals. It was they and only they who, by controlling their own majority party in the House have demanded economy-paralyzing austerity and the crippling of healthcare reform just as the nation tries to climb out of the worst crisis since the Great Depression. And, as you so well imply, it is all for nothing. The sky was not falling. One war is ended and the other winding down. The economy was recovering, unemployment was coming down, cars and smart phones were selling, things were getting back to normal, and now look at the mess they’ve made. We are on the brink of fiscal disaster and it’s completely unnecessary. In short, I agree that things would have been a lot better had they all stayed home, but even better would have been if the 30 or 40 TP radicals had stayed home.

    1. I don’t point just to the Tea Party because I now blame everyone to some extent. There are, or used to be, enough savvy politicians on both sides of the aisle in both houses of Congress to find ways to get things done. Whatever used to happen in those smoke-filled rooms ought to be happening. Bribery, coercion, pressure, committee appointments and/or chairmanships, quid pro quo deals, all the sausage-making I don’t really know about. It’s their job to find a way.

      I do agree the ACA should not be any part of the deal-making. They can argue about it after they get the government running again.

    1. Just when you think the dog and pony show couldn’t get any worse …

      Honestly, these guys (in this case the Republicans) make me want to puke. They’re in Washington playing parliamentary games like this while the country is going to hell in a handbasket. I don’t know how they can live with themselves.

  2. Honestly, I could say the same thing about the last five Congresses. As to tearing this country apart, I believe that is what politicians do in order to get votes. It’s an old game and one that is effective. As long as you can get people hostile toward one another then they won’t notice what you’re doing. Personally, I don’t think it’s Congress so much as the fact that most Americans don’t bother to study our understand our form of government (if they did, we wouldn’t have most of the people we have in office today). And that we can’t be bothered to study and know the issues unless it directly intrudes on our personal lives. And that we’ve allowed ourselves to become a victim society, where we expect someone or something else to fix it or give us something or solve the problem.

    In terms of the shutdown, it is only affecting 17% of government services, despite what people may be saying it is having little effect on anything. As far as I’m concerned they can stay shut down because they are spending less money and not making any new laws – that seems like a win-win to me.

    In terms of deviseness (gosh, I hate that word) a study of the formation of our government will demonstrate that the framers wanted conflict and opposing views because they felt then that there was less chance of majoritarian or mob rule and that those in the minority would have a better chance at being represented in a representative government. So the battles and the push and pull is not a bad thing if you ask me.

    Although to me, the bottom line is that you get the government you ask for, if we are unhappy with our current government, we have ourselves to blame. We put these people in office and entrusted our country to them. If they are doing a crappy job then maybe we need to examine why we put them there in the first place.

    Anyway, just my two cents.


    1. I agree the Founding Fathers wanted opposing views, views from all quarters, and set up the government in a way that would ensure fair representation. It’s good to have all sides of an issue aired out, and to hear from everyone. However, I think it was expected that after all sides were heard, there would be some horse trading and compromises, and eventually laws would be made for the good of the country as a whole. I don’t think they intended that a radical minority should change the rules (see video above) or use unrelated issues to attempt to blackmail the majority or hold up the entire US government in order to advance their particular pet issues. Majority rule is not mob rule; it’s the result of a democratic vote where the guy with the most votes wins.

      As for the government shutdown, it’s easy to say “it’s only affecting 17%” — unless you’re in the 17%. For the 17% it can be a matter of financial survival. Read my posts about what the shutdown of Rocky Mountain National Park was doing to the town of Estes Park. (In short, Estes Park is a little mountain town that was ravaged by massive flooding that left it virtually cut off from the outside world. Its primary source of income is tourism, driven by Rocky Mountain National Park. Just as one road was reopened to get the tourists in again, the park was closed, short-circuiting tourism just when the town most needed it to recover.)

      I appreciate your two cents, and I agree there are a lot of people in Congress right now who are doing a crappy job. They should be kicked to the curb in the next election.

      1. Well said.
        Why close the parks (Especially in CO after the flood – and talk about jobs and hurting people – what about those states where tourism is most of the business?) And monuments that don’t cost anything or require employees? And close the ocean and pay for it to be patrolled? Stupid childish
        Why not accept volunteers when offered? No common sense or trying to make the best of situations
        Hate to think it’s to hurt people….people who won’t get back pay or a pay increase in January.
        90% of Nasa here was closed which affected all the local businesses/contractors too…who won’t get back pay…
        Bad all around. Totally unnecessary.
        It’s all about THEM. We’re an after thought. Disgusted

        1. I try to tell myself they weren’t being deliberately vindictive or spiteful, they didn’t take time to choose specific targets to close, etc. But there is no good explanation for spending more money and manpower to put up barriers to keep people away from open air memorials than it would have cost to keep them open. And no good explanation for turning away volunteers willing to work in the place of furloughed park employees. That was all political theater. And I hope voters will remember it come election day.

          1. I was tolerating it all until I was the WWI memorial had 1 baricade and the WWII memorial which had scheduled Honor Flight visits coming was totally ringed and tied up.
            At least CO will be getting money (not happy about some of the other payoffs ‘negociated”)
            Junior high all over again. Everyone should be making a list – Santa for sure.

        2. My initial reaction to the mechanics of the shutdown was the same as yours, Philo, but on reflection I can see that it is not simple, and I believe it is necessary. Public parks and monuments are monitored and controlled for more than one reason, to protect the public from accidents and from each other, and to protect the property from crime and vandalism. Imagine, for example, if because of the unavailability of guards the WW II memorial had been defaced by hard to remove sprayed graffiti, or even an attack with a sledge hammer? I remember a spray paint incident occurred just a few weeks ago at the Lincoln Memorial, one that could have been even worse without guards. The rules for shutdowns have been put into place by numerous administrations over decades of political conflicts and to blame any particular party or person therefore would be inappropriate in my opinion.

          1. Almost every motel swimming pool contains a sign that states (paraphrased)

            Swim at your own risk. No Life Guard on duty.

            Instead of the word “Swim”, the word “Enter” could be substituted for the same money and people might even learn that they don’t need a mommy state watchdog as much as they’ve been led to believe.

            Plus… you could use the same sign again three (or so) months down the road.

          2. Yep, one sees “Enter/swim/play/ride at your own risk” signs all the time. If they’re good enough for the private sector, they should be good enough for the government. And yes, I fully expect such signs will be needed every few months.

          3. We can “what if” forever. It didn’t happen. Insulting the public did.
            Funny how during the past years during fed. gov. shutdowns, NONE of the parks/public lands were closed.(Look it up.)
            How can I take any government/Congress/elected official/President seriously that says the ocean/bays – or the Laguna Madre is closed …and you will get tickets…they will pay for patrols instead of hanging out a sign “use at your own risk” like public places do?
            Why not let people volunteer to mow the lawns, rake leaves by memorials and pick veggies at the White House garden for food banks? Scared of what? The public might find it’s enjoyable to physically help the country…and maybe some staff we can do without?
            How dare the feds damage CO (who support the President) further after flying over kissy kissy “we will do everything possible to get CO back on your feet?”
            Shame, not blame.

          4. Yup, I did look it up, Philo, and they were shut down before as well. This link describes the complaints which can be fairly described as accusations that the administration went out of its way to make the shutdown more annoying than it had to be. There may be some truth in it since there is evidence that state funding of some parks was approved more quickly in a previous shutdown. I rather doubt it was some kind of top-down conspiracy, but if it was I’m sure Rep. Issa will spare no expense to get to the bottom of it. Something tells me though that he will not be investigating the much less visible pain caused by the unpredictable and unnecessary shutdown to thousands of other businesses and hundreds of thousands of middle-class families who simply had to eat the loss of income because of furloughs, nor talking about the $24 billion estimated cost of the unnecessary and ineffective shutdown, nor the estimated hit to the economy. The hypocrisy is hip deep and rising.

  3. That last graph made me chuckle, PT. Lice get a good showing, don’t they?
    I think when one feels impotent the the face of the government, laughing is one recourse which makes us feel marginally better.

  4. Great post PT! And now that they’ve (apparently) kicked the can down the road again, I wonder how quickly people will go back to ignoring the problem?

    “We get the government we deserve” – Thomas Jefferson

    1. I haven’t looked yet. When is it we’ll be doing all this again? January? March? Absurd. Government, lurching from one crisis to the next. God forbid the guys in DC sit down together and look at some serious long-range planning for the country.

      1. It seems that these days “long-range” doesn’t go past the next election. I wonder if that’s why the Senate seems to have its act together more than the House? BTW PT, you’re really triggering my quote recall tonight. Your ” lurching from one crisis to the next” reminded me of this one:

        “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” – William Butler Yeats

... and that's my two cents