What the Do-Nothing Congress Did

The White House has been calling this a do-nothing Congress. Not so, says the Republican congressional majority. Chatterbox has now examined a fact sheet from the House Republican Conference called “The Legislative & Oversight Achievements of the Republican Congressdated Oct. 8, and concludes that the Democrats are exaggerating, but essentially right.

Everybody knows what this Congress didn’t achieve: major tobacco legislation, a patient’s bill of rights, hounding Bill Clinton out of office. The Republicans’ list of what they did achieve is numbered 1 to 118. That’s the first clue that none of these bills is terribly memorable. (If there had been five important bills passed in this Congress, the House Republicans would just be citing those five on a one-page press release.)

First, of course, come the tax cuts, of which the most significant was a cut in the capital gains tax. Also, apparently, Congress provided an increase in the mileage deduction for charitable use of a personal vehicle. (Yes, that’s really on the list of major achievements.) Then … there’s a bunch of stuff on education, including a couple of measures that were vetoed by Clinton (getting Clinton to veto anything labeled an education measure, is, apparently, an “achievement”). Then there’s some crime and drug stuff, the first of which is $205 million for “a new national media campaign targeting youth drug abuse.” Most of the remaining anti-drug money is for cops-and-robbers efforts like lending helicopters to the Columbian government, as opposed to funding more treatment of actual drug abusers (which, Michael Massing argues persuasively in his new book The Fix, would be much more effective). Then there’s some twiddling with entitlements (Medicare was saved until…2007! Sorry, not good enough: Chatterbox doesn’t turn 65 until 2023.) Then there’s some government reform stuff, including the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997. Get back to Chatterbox when you’ve passed the Amtrak Elimination Act. Then there’s the partial birth abortion ban (again, the achievement here wasn’t passing a law, but getting Clinton to veto the bill) and a housing bill that is genuinely significant (it will reduce disincentives for public-housing residents to increase their incomes). Then some stuff for veterans, including new penalties for desecrating cemeteries. Then there’s an expansion of the home office deduction, of which Chatterbox, who is writing from his home at this very minute, is eager to learn more. Asian and African elephants are apparently being conserved, even though they are not native to these shores. The Export-Import Bank was reauthorized. (Chatterbox would not weep for its elimination either.) The National Institutes of Health got reauthorized, which is good. (Chatterbox is very anti-disease.) Various bills were passed to prop up the farm economy, a dubious but inevitable achievement.

So, if anybody asks you: That’s what this Congress did.

–Timothy Noah