The Least Productive Congress Ever?

The Least Productive Congress Ever?

The Capitol
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, February 2, 2023

Happy Groundhog Day! Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter, but Staten Island Chuck did not, predicting an early spring for the eighth year in a row. Our prediction: many more weeks of occasionally frosty debt-limit discussions.

The Least Productive Congress Ever?

The 118th Congress is getting off to a remarkably slow start, and some lawmakers and analysts are worried that the pace won’t pick up any time soon.

In January, the Democratic-controlled Senate held just three votes. By comparison, in January 2017, there were 35 votes in the Senate, while in January 2015, there were 46.

“This certainly is an incredibly slow start,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) told NBC News. “There’s not a lot going on.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also noted the unusual pace. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a slower beginning that started a new Congress in the Senate,” he said.

The Republican-controlled House hasn’t been much more productive, getting bogged down in its first days under a new GOP majority in a squabble over who would be the next speaker. That contentious display has some observers worried that the House could be consumed by the pursuit of petty grievances and politically charged investigations rather than productive lawmaking over the next two years.

“I have very low expectations,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told NBC. “I would predict — and I hope I’m wrong — this will prove to be one of the least productive congresses in modern history because of the dysfunctionality of an unstable majority.”

On Thursday, the relatively modest schedule in the House included a vote to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the Foreign Affairs Committee for past remarks that many found to be anti-Semitic, and for which she had apologized — a vote that had been delayed from earlier in the week because the panel wasn’t ready yet. The vote was successful but did little to assuage fears that the new House majority is more interested in symbolic victories and acts of revenge than in substantial achievements. (“The vote marks the latest reprisal in an escalating partisan tit-for-tat over committee assignments that House members in both parties have called to end,” Axios’s Andrew Solender and Erin Doherty wrote.)

Later in the day, the House passed a resolution “denouncing the horrors of socialism,” which the ghost of Chairman Mao no doubt received with fear and trepidation, though what effect the resolution would have among the living remains unclear.

Then, their hard work done, the House adjourned for the weekend shortly after 3 p.m.

Some House Republicans have defended their work so far. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) noted that the House has passed several pieces of legislation, including a ban on the sale of oil to China from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve and a bill immediately ending the public health emergency on Covid-19. Little of that effort, however, is expected to be taken up by the Senate or become law.

The House also spent time this week debating the idea of starting each meeting of the House Judiciary Committee with the Pledge of Allegiance, a proposal offered by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), one of the Republicans who repeatedly sabotaged Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s effort to win the leadership of the lower chamber. Gaetz’s amendment sparked nearly an hour of fierce debate over just who is and who isn’t patriotic, a debate marked by considerable partisan vitriol. The amendment then passed on a unanimous vote, with the lawmakers deciding to ignore the fact that members of the House already begin each day with a recitation of the pledge.

The bottom line: “Welcome to the Seinfeld Congress,” NBC’s Scott Wong, Sahil Kapur and Frank Thorp V wrote. “It’s a show about nothing.”

Quote of the Day

"We will not pass a clean debt ceiling here without some form of spending reform. So there will never be a clean one. … At the end of the day, we’re going to get spending reforms. I believe you have to lift the debt ceiling, but you do not lift the debt ceiling without changing your behavior, so it’s got to be both."

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reiterating at a Thursday news conference that Republicans will not raise the debt limit without conditions, as the White House has demanded.

Both McCarthy and Biden said they had a good meeting Wednesday, and the president said Thursday that he and the speaker would treat each other with respect. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to agree, and fight like hell, but let’s treat each other with respect,” Biden said at the national prayer breakfast, where he was sat next to McCarthy.

The speaker told reporters that they agreed that Biden will be in touch in a few days to schedule another meeting.

Analysis of the Day: McCarthy’s Debt Limit Dilemma

New York’s Eric Levitz breaks down the predicament facing House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, writing that the Republican leader and his conference have decided to hold the debt limit hostage and are only now trying to come up with their demands. McCarthy’s problem, Levitz says, is that it’s not possible to reconcile the fiscal demands of GOP activists with the political needs of the party’s elected officials:

“Conservative true believers are committed to simultaneously balancing the federal budget within a decade and slashing tax rates. In order to win his bid for House Speaker, McCarthy had to commit to adopting a “Budget Resolution balancing within 10 years.” The Republican Study Committee, the largest House GOP caucus, released a plan to achieve that goal last year. But it included sweeping cuts to Medicare and Social Security, which a large majority of voters oppose.
“Thus, any set of fiscal demands that McCarthy releases will either betray conservative true believers by failing to balance the federal budget or generate propaganda for Biden’s reelection by aligning the Republican Party with gargantuan cuts to popular programs, all while antagonizing Donald Trump, national security hawks, Biden-district GOP representatives, or some combination of the three.”

Read more at New York’s Intelligencer.

Chart of the Day: Where Inflation Is Highest

Miami, Phoenix Seattle and Atlanta saw the highest annual inflation among U.S. metropolitan areas, according to the latest Consumer Price Index report, as illustrated by the Axios chart below. Axios’s Kelly Tyko notes that the Tampa and Dallas metro areas had the highest inflation in November and that CPI data is not available monthly for all metro areas.


Number of the Day: 102,943

U.S. businesses reported nearly 103,000 job cuts last month, up 440% from the prior January and the most for any month since 2020, according to data compiled by Challenger, Gray & Christmas and reported by Bloomberg. The tech sector accounted for 41% of those planned cuts. “Still, overall job losses remain historically low,” Bloomberg’s Augusta Saraiva and Reade Pickert say. “Economic activity may be cooling but many firms are still seeking to hire — and doling out higher wages to lure talent and retain employees.” Those trends are seen as driving the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates higher for longer as it looks to rein in inflation.


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