A recent headline in The New York Times blared: “House Dysfunction by the Numbers: 724 Votes, Only 27 Laws Enacted,” while another publication called the 118th Congress “the least productive Congress since the 1930s.”
The bleak picture they paint ignores a crucial point: Congress is functioning largely as America’s Founding Fathers intended.
Fearful of “unruly passions,” the Founding Fathers designed the federal government to act gingerly, especially in the presence of widespread political discord. With Republicans leading the House and Democrats leading the Senate with the smallest of majorities, Congress seems dysfunctional due to the outrage and frustration of those — on both the left and the right — who would, but cannot, impose sweeping public policy changes on a divided country.
As Thomas Jefferson wisely understood, “Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.”
The 117th Congress enacted 365 laws during Joe Biden’s first two years as president. By that metric, it was far more “productive” than the current Congress. But more is NOT necessarily better.
The raw number of new laws enacted is not nearly as important as the 1) content of those laws, 2) the long-term costs associated with them, and 3) their ultimate impact on America’s future.
Consider the ill-advised and laughably named “American Rescue Plan Act.” The 117th Congress passed it soon after President Biden’s inauguration, prompting former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers — a senior economic adviser to Presidents Clinton and Obama — to warn, “I think this is the least responsible macroeconomic policy we’ve had in the last 40 years.”
Summers also warned that the new law could possibly aggravate inflation. He was proven right. Only 1.4% when Biden was sworn in, inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, steadily accelerated to 9.1% last year. In fact, inflation topped out at 2.9% during Donald Trump’s presidency; that figure is lower than in all but the first three months of Joe Biden’s presidency!
Altogether, the U.S. price level jumped 17.38% during the three years President Biden has been in office. The fact that the House has tapped the breaks on out-of-control government spending and other inflationary policies is certainly a point in their favor and not something to be overlooked or derided in a New York Times statistic.
The 117th Congress arguably passed a bad law. Actually, several bad laws. And that is, somehow, a good thing? Yes! At least according to the statistics touted by The New York Times.
Working with the “productive” 117th Congress, President Biden ballooned federal spending and added nearly $5 trillion to the 10-year federal budget deficit. And given that his policies contributed to significantly higher inflation and interest rates, interest payments on the federal debt surged by $176 billion last year alone. (That’s an increase of 33%!) Biden’s fiscal policies, sadly, are a “gift” that keeps on giving.
If, as the saying goes, legislating is much like sausage-making, it follows that legislation produced with spoiled meat is dangerous, no matter how talented and productive the butcher claims to be.
Remember former President Calvin Coolidge’s adage: “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.”
From that perspective, the 118th Congress has been very productive. In fact, in light of the Biden administration’s relentless, leftward legislative drive, the 118th Congress is one of the most consequential Congress’ in decades.
Less of something bad is good.
Given that Secretary Summers cautioned again earlier this year that the Biden administration’s economic agenda is growing “increasingly dangerous,” the American people ought to take great comfort in knowing House Republicans are doing their job. They are what stands between the Biden administration’s costly, woke agenda and America’s future.
This bears repeating: The U.S. House of Representatives is doing its job, and doing it well. The 118th Congress is holding the line against an array of politically divisive federal policies that threaten to divide America even further.
Although the 118th Congress has enacted relatively little legislation, the legislation enacted is quite positive. The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 comes to mind.
That single piece of legislation produced savings of nearly $1.5 trillion. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, that’s the largest spending and deficit reduction measure in nearly a dozen years!
Congress’ role is to pass responsible legislation designed to strengthen the country and provide greater opportunity for the greatest number of American citizens. This objective does not necessarily correlate with the New York Times’ simple assertion that bill passage is a definitive measure of success.
Applying the proper prism of quality legislation over quantity, the 118th Congress has performed admirably.
James Carter and Jim Ellison January 1, 2024