Capitol Hill Sunset

This is the least legitimate, least productive, least liked congress of all time

The 113th Congress is redefining congressional dysfunction, and is likely to go down as the least productive, least legitimate, least liked and most partisan in a-hundred-and-fifty-years.

This Republican House has the least public mandate of any Congress in history. In the 2012 elections, the Republicans won 234 seats to the Democrats 201. But the Democrats won 48.8% of the popular vote, to the Republican’s 47.6%; and received 59,645,000 votes, to the Republican’s 58,228,000. The Democrat’s vote tally was nearly one-and-a-half-million higher. There is no precedent for this, not even close – never has the legitimate preference of the voters been so distorted; the Republicans are in the majority not because of the intent of democracy, but because of the littleness of the process. They have relied on the letter of the law to defy its spirit.

The only other time the House majority received less of the popular vote in the last sixty years was 1996, but the disparity was not nearly as egregious: Newt Gingrich’s Republicans retained the majority, despite receiving only 43,447,000 votes, to the Democrats’ 43,507,000.

As well as having the least claim to a mandate, the 113th Congress remains on track to be the least productive in modern history. Just 142 public bills have been enacted into law in the current session, down from the 906 the 80th “Do-Nothing” Congress passed in 1947-48, and the 333 that were enacted during the Newt Gingrich-led 104th Congress of 1995-96.
At this same point in the last Congress, which set the record for the fewest bills passed into public law in the modern era, 151 bills had made it into law. Here’s a historical record of laws enacted by Congress:

~ 113th Congress (2013-14): 142 public laws (as of July 31, 2014)
~ 112th Congress (2011-12): 283 public laws (total)
At this SAME point in the 112th Congress: 151 (as of July 30, 2012)
~ 111th Congress (2009-10): 383
~ 110th Congress (2007-2008): 460
~ 109th Congress (2005-2006): 482
~ 108th Congress (2003-2004): 498
~ 107th (2001-2002) : 377
~ 106th (1999-2000): 580
~ 105th (1997-98): 394
~ 104th (1995-96): 333
~ 103rd (1993-94): 465
~ 102nd (1991-92): 590
~ 101st (1989-90): 650
~ 100th (1987-88): 713
~ 99th (1985-86): 663
~ 98th (1983-84): 623
~ 97th (1981-82): 473
~ 96th (1979-80): 613
~ 95th (1977-78): 633
~ 94th (1975-76): 588
~ 93rd (1973-74): 649
~ 92nd (1971-72): 607
~ 91st (1969-70): 695
~ 90th (1967-68): 640
~ 89th (1965-66): 810
~ 88th (1963-64): 666
~ 87th (1961-62): 885
~ 86th (1959-60): 800
~ 85th (1957-58): 936
~ 84th (1955-56): 1,028
~ 83rd (1953-54): 781
~ 82nd (1951-52): 594
~ 81st (1949-50): 921
~ 80th (1947-48): 908

As well as being, or as a consequence of being, the least legitimate and least productive House, only 7% of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the institution, according to a recent poll by Gallup. Even after many years of brutally unpopular Congresses, that’s the lowest level ever recorded, down from 10% in 2013. It’s not just the least popular Congress, though: It’s also the least popular institution of any kind ever recorded by Gallup.

The United States Congress hasn’t been this polarized since the North and South faced off against each other in the Civil War. And it won’t get better any time soon, according to Keith Poole, a political scientist. Poole and NYU professor of politics at Howard Rosenthal collected every roll call vote dating back to the very first Congress in 1789. The two political scientists used the data to create a kind of ideological roadmap, plotting votes along the political spectrum. They found that the legislative branch hasn’t been this polarized in 130 years.

This unprecedented polarization was also recently highlighted in a report titled, “Vital Statistics on Congress,” published by the Brookings Institute. The report documents ideological polarization of congressional coalitions from both parties since the 1940s. It shows the parties have evolved in opposite directions as time has progressed. While the Democratic Party has been become more liberal relative to where it was in 1948, the Republican Party has become more conservative at a much faster rate.

Last year, in the House, only two Democrats were more conservative than a Republican—and only two Republicans were more liberal than a Democrat. The ideological overlap between the parties in the House was less than in any previous index. Half of the 10 House Republicans who have announced their retirement—Frank Wolf in Virginia, Jim Gerlach in Pennsylvania, Jon Runyan in New Jersey, Spencer Bachus in Alabama, and Tom Latham in Iowa—rank in the top fifth of moderate Republicans.

Not only is this Congress the least legitimate, least productive, least liked and least bi-partisan, it is also the wealthiest. More than 50% of the U.S. Congress are millionaires. The median net worth of House members is $896,000. Thousands of companies are given billions of dollars worth of government contracts every year, and many will often lobby Congress directly. All the while, lawmakers have stock holdings or other financial relationships with these corporations and associations, with connections, either directly or through family, to substantial interests in media, big pharma, tech, and banking.

Such wealth, both personally and from backers, is more necessary than ever to increase the odds of entering Congress. Despite a reduction in the number of competitive districts because of redistricting, $923.5 million was spent on House races in 2012, up almost $400 million in 10 years according to data provided by the Campaign Finance Institute. The average spending for a Democratic member was about $1 million and $1.3 for a Republican.

The likely consequence of this growing extremism and appaling dysfunction? According to almost every poll, the status quo will prevail in November – and remain until redistricting is possible again, after the next census, in 2020.

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