Congress, take a bow: You did something!

August 09, 2002|By Ross K. Baker

EVERYONE HAS has heard of the "do-nothing" Congress. Well, call this the "do-something" Congress.

Before this current two-year session is over in January, the 107th Congress will be able to boast of the most impressive list of accomplishments of any Congress since the days of the Johnson administration in the 1960s.

Whether or not you agree with everything it has done, there is no way one could characterize this Congress as unresponsive or lazy.

It is true that the homeland security bill will be put over until after the August recess; this legislation represents the most extensive consolidation of federal government agencies since the 1948 reorganization that combined the departments of War and Navy and created an independent Air Force under the new Department of Defense. And it is true that there is still a major difference between the White House and the Senate's Democratic majority over the degree of Civil Service protection for the 170,000 employees in the proposed agency. But the differences have been so narrowed that ultimate passage should not be a problem.

Clearly, the bankruptcy reform bill too will pass. And the list of other major legislative actions also is impressive.

For example, Congress finally passed a measure granting the president the power to negotiate trade agreements with minimal tampering by Congress. And it overwhelmingly approved -- despite the president's early opposition -- legislation to punish corporate corruption and regulate the accounting industry. Without a doubt, it is Congress that deserves credit for this bill's toughness.

Sure, we could say that Congress got in gear because members feared they couldn't go before voters this fall without something in hand. But that only underscores Congress' responsiveness.

We could name a few legislators who were most responsible for the record of accomplishment. Maryland Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes. Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley. Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy. Texas Republican Rep. Dick Armey.

Yet everyone has pulled together when the easiest course for both parties would have been a Saturnalia of partisan demagoguery in which each accused the other of obstruction.

This Congress reminds us of the observation of Samuel Johnson about a dog walking on its hind legs: "It is not that the feat is done well but rather that it is done at all."

Ross K. Baker is a political science professor at Rutgers University.

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