Politics & Policy

Do Nothing Congress?

Let's hope.

When chosen as speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi promised sweeping changes — many of which would supposedly be enacted within 100 hours of her opening gavel. Her most serious pledges, perhaps, were aimed at making “our economy fairer” and beginning the immediate “redeployment and transition of our troops out of Iraq.”

Luckily, Speaker Pelosi’s leadership emerged at the same time George W. Bush discovered his veto pen, and the Speaker has been unable to push much of her agenda through Congress.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal summed up Congress’s actions since inauguration day in January 2007: “In two decades of record keeping, no sitting Congress has passed fewer public laws at this point in the session — 294 so far — than this one.” Only weeks before, Time made a similar observation: “The 260 laws passed by the 110th Congress represent a 30-year low, and they include the naming of 74 post offices, not to mention the nonbinding resolutions designating July National Watermelon Month and recognizing dirt as an essential natural resource.”

But the inaction of Pelosi’s Congress has not come without recourse, at least for the Speaker’s own political well being. According to the RealClearPolitics poll average, only 18 percent of the electorate approves of the 110th Congress. And a recent Rasmussen poll discovered that only 9 percent of respondents “say Congress is doing a good or excellent job.”

The Washington Times, NPR, and pundits of the Left and Right alike have cast aspersions on Congress, but Pelosi deserves credit for congressional inaction. When the Democrats swept into power in the 2006 election, Congress was fired up. Perhaps under different Democratic leadership, the electorate would have been saddled with a long list of “reforms” that would have turned the current economic slowdown into a deep recession. While the economy has not exactly been booming as it is, a “fairer” policy would only have resulted in higher taxes or larger deficits, either of which would have serious damaged the economy.

And imagine if the Democrats’ plan to withdraw from Iraq had succeeded. The troop surge would not have happened, and war historians would not now be calling the war a victory.

So, this hostility toward the Democratic-controlled Congress simply misses Speaker Pelosi’s political virtue. “That government is best which governs least,” Thomas Paine famously wrote in Civil Disobedience.

But make no mistake: The 110th Congress has not been perfect. Irresponsible largesse and wasteful legislation has squeaked through in the form of, to name only two, the Farm Bill and the minimum-wage hike. Congress has declined to approve free-trade agreements, and has left military personnel wondering whether they will receive proper funding to fight the War on Terror.

But overall, quite apart from its lofty and noble-minded rhetoric — in spite of it, in fact — the 110th Congress has done well. It’s just too bad that 40 percent of polled voters are under the illusion that the Republicans still run Congress.

— Daniel Halper frequently posts on Commentary’s blog Contentions.

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