Increasingly, our “do-nothing” Congress is seen as the impediment to America’s recovery, but is this a fair assessment? Some say that more specifically the Senate, a chamber intended for elites to represent other elites, is out of touch with Middle America and is the “real” representative chasm. The Senate voted 235 times in 2011, hardly do nothing. Yet when compared to the previous 6 years in which the Senate voted an average 334 times, 42 percent more, something seems amiss. So I investigated.
After finding that 80% of major legislation was filibustered in the Senate, I hoped I would not find a stench in the chamber pot of the Senate’s chamber. Yet a review of 2011 Senate votes was more stinky than I imagined. Filibustering and procedure that stalled to a mere 235 votes had reached limits of credulity. For instance, cloture, a seldom used historical tool now was common place. With votes to proceed and to table, 77 votes were cast in 2011, a full third of the votes.
After 2005, when the use of the nuclear option was threatened and the Senate feared losing its filibuster toy, voting to confirm judges has become much more procedural. All 44 of the 235 votes cast for judges confirmed them. Include these to other procedural votes and a majority of 2011 votes, 52% were cast. Add 9% more votes cast for appropriations bills that many Senators did not read, and 61% of the votes were a foregone conclusion.
Some have accused the Senate of being in the pocket of big business, and not to disappoint, both parties voted for international business 43 times, an additional 18% of votes, on such interests as trade bills, IRS rules, patent reform, wage restrictions, currency exchange rate oversight and military non-appropriations bills like the sale of military equipment to Taiwan and the extension of the Patriot Act. So if we include Senate rules, votes on judges, spending appropriations and big business, these measures were 80% of Senate votes in 2011.
So what did this “do-nothing” Senate spend its remaining 47 votes accomplishing? Included in these remaining votes were 12 non-appropriations bills that passed the Senate floor. Of these, 4 were trade bills that the Senate claimed would produce jobs but by historical accounts will continue to gut America. 2 bills repealed previous impositions on business including a government withholding of vendor payments and IRS reporting rules. 2 bills extended previous bills including the Patriot Act. Of course, the ability to detain American citizens indefinitely was slipped in there somewhere.
That left 4 remaining 2011 bills that had any hope of meeting the most urgent needs of America. Did the Senate have a pulse on what could fix our slide into a jobless stagnation? Did they bring to the floor those bills that could create a better future for our children? What were the pressing needs that America’s Senate felt were the most important? Apparently the Senate thought they were patent reform, alignment of misaligned currency, modernizing air traffic control, and reducing the executive positions requiring Senate approval.
I was sure that critically important jobs bills would have made it to the floor of the U.S. Senate in 2011. Two motions to proceed on jobs bills were in fact voted on but were rejected outright. Also, one jobs amendment made it to a vote but failed to win a majority.
My analysis did not shine a favorable light on this esteemed chamber of our legislature. Perhaps all in Congress will analyze their poor 2011 performance for themselves and make a new year’s resolution to hear the call of America prior to the 2012 elections. Alas when they do not, America must resolve to listen to our own voices and to vote in a new Congress.