WASHINGTON – Say this about the 113th Congress: It has managed to live down to low expectations.
With only a lame-duck post-Election Day mop-up session left before a new Congress takes the oath of office in January, the 113th is on track to be one of the least productive Congresses – in terms of laws passed and signed by the president – in 60 years.
The 113th Congress, which passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through Dec. 11 before heading out of town, has seen just 163 pieces of legislation enacted.
That total, from the House clerk, tracks only through August, but it’s more than 100 pieces of legislation below the 283 measures enacted in the 112th Congressand well below the 383 in the 111th Congress.
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Another handful of bills, including the continuing resolution, have been sent to the president, but unless the 113th has an unprecedented burst of productivity when they return for the lame duck, the die is cast.
As Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson told CQ Roll Call last week, “This has been the most do-nothingest Congress.”
It’s a distinction that Democrats insist is a disgrace and an abdication of the responsibility of governing.
After the Sept. 18 announcement from the GOP leadership that the final five days of House sessions scheduled before the November elections would be canceled, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ripped the Republicans for leaving work on the table.
“It is a good afternoon,” Pelosi said at a hastily arranged news conference near the House floor, “but not a good afternoon for Congress to adjourn for this session.”
“We were supposed to be here tomorrow, then another week,” Pelosi fumed, flanked by Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn, D-S.C. “Now we’ve been informed by the Republican leadership that anything that we were ever going to do is over until we come back for the lame-duck session.”
“The American people have to ask, ‘What do you do for a living? What do you do for my living?'” said Pelosi. “What are you doing for me?'”
The press conference was also the three top House Democrats’ final chance to collectively make their case before cameras and microphones that voters in November should oust the GOP from the majority in the House – and keep the Democrats in control of the Senate.
But a newly confident and disciplined GOP – Speaker John A. Boehner’s team pushed this week’s spending bill through the House easily, despite tea party concerns – is looking forward to Nov. 4.
Boehner and Co. expect the GOP edge in the House to grow, and in in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., and other Republicans sense that retaking that chamber is within their grasp.
As for the “do-nothing” charge, many Republicans contend that holding the legislative line on what they and many of their constituents consider an overreaching, out-of-control White House is no vice. After all, suing the president is also part of the 113th’s legacy.
Others in the GOP say any blame over a lack of legislative productivity should be assigned to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the Democrat-controlled Senate –not the GOP-controlled House.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told CQ Roll Call that House Republicans had passed hundreds of bills, “including jobs bill after jobs bill.”
“But Washington Democrats – including President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders – have utterly failed to act,” Steel said.
Moira Bagley Smith, spokeswoman for Majority Whip Steve Scalise, said, “Considering the Senate is sitting on over 350 pieces of House-passed legislation from this Congress, I believe Sen. Reid’s chamber single-handedly has earned the title of ‘least productive.’
“The contrast in productivity between these two chambers couldn’t be more obvious,” she added.
That’s a refrain they'll use on the campaign trail as the GOP attempts to reclaim control of the Senate. They need to win at least six seats to take over.
Reid, in his last news conference before adjourning the Senate until Nov. 12, ticked off a list of Democratic priorities rejected by GOP leaders: pay equity, raising the minimum wage, a proposal to allow student loans to be refinanced to lower interest rates, and a measure to discourage outsourcing jobs overseas.
“Their charade is so cynical that they even block bills they claim to want,” Reid said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., however, said Reid’s unwillingness to hold open debates and allow the Senate to vote for fear of a political backlash in November has brought the Senate to a halt.
“It’s just (a result of) increased partisanship, increased dictatorial practice, very frankly,” McCain added.
Whether the credit goes to Republicans or Democrats, the lack of legislative accomplishments earns this group a unique position in congressional history. But there were other unforgettable moments from the past 20 months that are also cemented in the 113th’s legacy.
There were surprises – like Sen. Rand Paul’s out-of-the-blue 13-hour filibuster on drones – a throwback move that reminded the country that Congress, despite its troubles, retains the power to inspire.
And there were breakdowns in civility, none more stunning or explosive than Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s decision to cut the mic of ranking Democrat Elijah E. Cummings.
There were also successes. For the first time since 2009, both chambers agreed to a budget.
And there were gut-wrenching stalemates, like last year’s partial government shutdown, that dragged on into days that turned into weeks.
Earlier this year, conventional wisdom held that the October shutdown would be an albatross around Republican necks this election.The GOP, meanwhile, was just as sure that the Affordable Care Act would cripple Democrats. Instead, both issues have taken a backseat as concerns about terrorism, immigration and the economy have surged to the fore.
But whatever the issue – spending, unemployment, entitlements, tax reform, the Affordable Care Act, immigration – they'll all be waiting there under the dome for the new Congress in January.
That, too, is part of the 113th’s legacy.