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Do Nothing

President Harry Truman famously nicknamed the 80th Congress the “Do Nothing Congress.” Actually, Congress did quite a bit of work in 1948, passing a total of 511 bills, including some
landmark legislation. Truman’s problem was that he didn’t like a lot of the bills, and some became law despite his veto.

Let’s talk about a real do nothing Congress. Last year, Congress passed 61 bills. So far this year, 13. That’s right. 13. Among them, the District of Columbia Chief Financial Officer Vacancy Act, the Reducing Flight Delays Act, the Freedom to Fish Act and (I’m not making this up) a bill to specify the size of the precious-metal blanks that will be used in the production of the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins. (For a list of all 13 bills, click here.)

Not surprisingly, 77% of Americans now disapprove of the job Congress is doing. But the deck is so overwhelmingly stacked in favor of incumbents that any meaningful change next year is unlikely.

The brilliant statistician and analyst Nate Silver estimates that there are now only 35 competitive House districts, ones where a Democrat is as likely to win as a Republican. That’s down from 103 and 1992. (That means even then, there were 332 uncompetitive districts.)

It’s all pretty depressing. We have too many members of Congress who are most worried about keeping their jobs. We don’t have enough who have the courage, foresight and background to understand that there is no such thing as a perfect solution to any problem. They don’t understand that job qualification number one should be the ability to compromise.

That’s the way the Founding Fathers set things up, and that’s the way they reached agreement on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I’ll bet they’d be very disappointed at the way things aren’t working.