Failures, and Failings, of the Adjourned Congress

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The recently adjourned 109th Congress was the most unproductive in recent history, says NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr. Lawmakers left key matters unfinished, pushing them off onto the next Congress.


The 109th session of Congress is in the history books, and before we look ahead to the 110th, NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has this remembrance, and it is not a fond one.

DANIEL SCHORR: At 4:35 a.m. on Saturday, Senator Bill Frist performed his last act as majority leader. To the handful of members still there, he announced the adjournment of the 109th Congress - Sine Die, that is, forever--leaving behind the most unproductive session in recent history. Congress has been in session only 103 days this year, compared to 110 for President Truman's Do-Nothing Congress.

It had not performed its most basic constitutional duty to vote the appropriations necessary to run the government. Of 11 departmental appropriations, it had managed to pass only two, defense and homeland security. And the rest of the government was left to limp along on a stopgap resolution that was constantly in danger of expiring.

In its last throes, the 109th managed to pass legislation establishing permanent trade relations with Vietnam and a nuclear trade pact with India. And yes, renewing a cluster of expiring tax breaks. The Democrats, flexing their pending muscle, secured a bill blocking an automatic pay increase for Congress until next year after a vote to increase the minimum wage.

What Congress did not do is more striking than what this Congress did; it took no action on real immigration reform. It did not enact a budget. It produced no basic reform in Social Security or Medicare. It did however have spirited debates on matters like flag burning, gay marriage and Terry Shiavo's feeding tube, an issue that absorbed Senator Frist.

This could also be called the Mark Foley Congress. A leadership that for years did nothing about a congressman who made e-mail advances to adolescent pages. Foley resigned, the House Ethics Committee said that members of Congress were negligent about protecting the pages, but it said no rules had been broken.

It may be that Congress has become like the title of a recent book by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, "The Broken Branch."

This is Daniel Schorr.

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