Nel's New Day

August 6, 2012

Where Is Congress? And the Jobs?

Today is Monday, and many workers went back to work. Those  people at work don’t include the members of the U.S. House of Representatives: they’re off on a month vacation. Their excuse for all this time off is that they need to listen to their constituents. More likely, they are fund-raising and campaigning, working very hard to get re-elected for another two years.

Last year the House calendar listed 175 legislative days. Those included the 17 pro forma days when a few of them marched into session, said they were there, and then left in order to keep President Obama from making any recess appointments. Therefore, they were in working sessions for fewer than 44 percent of the days. Most people with full-time jobs work 250 days a year, so the representatives’ days in session were fewer than 64 percent of the days employers require for full-time work.

This year the House plans to meet an average of three days for 26 weeks. They list a fourth day at the beginning of the week most of the time, but those days all state that there will be no vote before 6:30. At the other end of the week, days indicate no votes after 3:00 pm. So they leave for the weekend at 3 and don’t get back until 6:30 pm three days later. This means fewer than 100 working days during the entire year. Fortunately for them, they only have to work one month after they get back in September because they won’t be in Washington for the last four weeks of October—except for the one who calls the House into session twice a week to again stop the president from carrying out his constitutional right.

If they actually accomplished something while they were physically in the nation’s capitol, they might be forgiven for their absence this month. Two years ago, this House was elected because candidates promised that they would get jobs for people and reduce the unemployment that George W. Bush created during his eight years. Instead, they have worked to reduce the safety net for all people in the country.

Despite the desperate plight of farmers and ranchers from the horrendous drought throughout the country, the Congress failed to pass any emergency aid for them. The House failed to consider the five-year farm measure, providing only a short-term, $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. In disgust, the Senate ignored the bill because the House would not even discuss the broader legislation. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Agriculture Committee, said that her committee would work during August to put together a new measure for the House.

Without any legislation, livestock producers have lost their safety net program for feed losses. Their only recourse is to find another source of feed or sell or kill off animals. Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-OK) told the Republicans in the House, “If you want to leave people hurting, I guess that’s your choice.”

The House also declared an anti-abortion bill for Washington, D.C. a priority, but it failed because of the two-thirds requirement. Banning abortions after 20 weeks, it would have prevented up to 1.5 percent of abortions performed. Meanwhile some Senate members have been busy adding anti-abortion amendments to any bill available: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tried to attach on to the bill providing federal flood insurance. In June, the House passed a Homeland Security spending bill that includes a provision to bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement from providing abortions for illegal immigrant detainees. This hasn’t happened since 2003.

The Violence against Women Act is still being held hostage by conservative lawmakers. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) pointed out last Friday that “it has now been more than 300 days since VAWA expired, a timeline that has also seen the deaths of more than 1,100 women due to domestic violence.” She continued, “In April, the Senate passed VAWA by a vote of 68-31, a rare bipartisan feat that included 15 Republicans.”  The House refuses to take action.

While the Senate Finance Committee voted to renew tax breaks for businesses such as biodiesel and wind energy, the House has passed a bill to erase these breaks. While not discussing the farm bill and VAWA, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) reintroduced an English-only bill at a House Judiciary subcommittee. The bill has 122 co-sponsors.

Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) wants a law exempting honoraria won by U.S. Olympic medalists from taxes to show the country’s appreciation. On the Senate side, Marco Rubio  (R-FL) introduced the Olympic Tax Elimination Act, which would “exempt U.S. Olympic medal winners from paying taxes on their hard-earned medals.” It’s a moot point because the $25,000 won for a gold medal won’t result in much taxes unless the athlete makes over $250,000 after exemptions for training, uniforms, etc.

The day before the representatives walked off the job for a five-week vacation, Rep. Paul Labrador (D-ID) joined three Republicans in proposing a bill to clarify that the individual mandate in the 2010 healthcare law, and associated penalties for not buying health insurance, “shall not be construed as a tax.” Once again the conservatives are trying to do away with health care for the people of the United States.

The House did pass a measure (H.R. 4078) last week that would prevent any new regulations—or even actions leading up to their proposal—until the unemployment rate reaches 6 percent, pretty much an impossibility. Even former Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert from New York objected to the measure and wrote an article entitled, “GOP right wing is serious about disabling government.” He wrote, “The legislation might as well just directly order the agencies that were created to protect the public to close up shop.”

The measure turned out to be more of a joke than the Republicans intended. First, a typo that said “employment” rather than “unemployment” gave the meaning that new regulations would be suspended until unemployment reached 94 percent. In repairing that problem, they referred to H.Res. 783 instead of H.Res. 738. In a desperate move to make Democrats vote quickly on all these issues about a bill that has almost no chance of being law, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) reminded the opposition that life is short, a reference to the mass murder in Aurora (CO) the week before.

Another successful bill in the House was one that would fire federal employees if they don’t pay their income tax. More than 96 percent of federal employees pay their taxes on time, and laws exist to take care of this. The issue with the IRS is that the conservative lawmakers keep cutting back on their funding so that they cannot pursue people who fail to pay taxes.

The summary of House floor activities presents a compendium of legislative trivia that includes authorizing battery recharging stations for privately owned vehicles in parking areas under the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives and authorizing the use of the rotunda of the Capitol for the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Unfinished business included preventing abuse of government charge cards. The summary shows micro-management to excess.

Although Congress avoids most compromises, the Senate and the House did agree to tighten sanctions against Iran. In addition, a tentative agreement would keep the government operating after the end of the fiscal year on September 30 until March 31, but the measure hasn’t passed either the House of Senate. Conservative lawmakers are not known for keeping their promises.

One agreement has conservative bloggers spitting in anger over a bipartisan bill passed last week. The president can now appoint some executive branch and military officers without Senate approval. The far right is still safe in refusing to confirm all the judges that President Obama nominates. President Obama began his administration with 1,215 executive branch positions requiring Senate confirmation. By contrast, fifty years ago President John F. Kennedy had only 286 positions to fill. At the start of the Obama administration, there were 1,215 executive branch positions that required Senate confirmation.

Ted Cruz, the newest Tea Party candidate to defeat an establishment Republican, gave the party line on compromise: “I am perfectly happy to compromise and work with anybody, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians. I’ll work with Martians. If–and the if is critical–they’re willing to cut spending and reduce the debt.” The definition of compromise has been, and continues to be, doing that the Tea Party wants. Running for the Senate in Texas, he will most likely win, contributing to the craziness in Congress.

It’s been over 19 months since the Tea Party hijacked the Congress with the promise that they would solve the unemployment problem. They have enacted just 151 laws in these 19 months, almost 20 percent of them renaming post offices and courthouses or adding people to the Smithsonian board. This is far less than half of any other Congress during the past 64 years, even 15 percent of one Congressional session’s output. The popularity of the Congress, shrunken to 12 percent, is as drastically low as the number of acts.

Where are the jobs?

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