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Congressional Catch-22: Measuring the Success of Congress

Congressional Catch-22: Measuring the Success of Congress

When did we start measuring the “success” of Congress based on the number of laws it passes?  Seriously.  I’m asking: when?  I don’t really remember the moment or the year or even the decade, but at some point, Americans got into our heads that the only successful Congress was a “productive” Congress–one that cranked out every other day new laws, new programs, new “fixes” for every problem under the sun.  Both sides do it.  Republicans champion everything from unfunded prescription drug plans to revamping K-12 education and placing it in the “care” of federal government to creating government bodies that find work for veterans; they are just as guilty of this “the government that governs most, governs best” credo.

We expect this from leftists and regressives; it’s what they do.  They see a problem (or invent one), write some law to “fix” it (ignoring, of course, any and all effects it will have, all those pesky “unintended consequences”), and then merrily raise taxes to get money to toss indiscriminately (and almost always unwisely) at the “problem” of the day.  But when did Republicans start doing that?  And when did we, the people, buy into this idea that more laws, more government programs, more more more was the answer?

And there’s the rub.  We didn’t buy into the idea that bigger government is the answer, but we did–somehow, inexplicably–buy into the idea that our representatives and senators needed to “do something,” that some action should be taken, that laws should be passed.  How did we miss the fact that this contradictory impulse, this irreconcilable demand on our elected representatives to at once pass indiscriminately law after law and to respect both the Constitution and individual liberty, would and could only manifest itself in the bizarre push me-pull you political mess we’re in?

Maybe it is time to start measuring the success of Congress based on how many laws it repeals instead of how many it passes.


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Carol Herman | July 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm


Once Bob Dole was in the senate. People didn’t think he was an incompetent leader. Today? The chinless wonder is about as incompetent you can get without falling out of your chair.

I think Boehner has a shower head in his office, and he spray paints himself all over in orange. I think, too, his staff worries that he can stumble drunk. And, he can also drunkenly fall out of his chair.

I remember Sam Irvin (sp?) … I remember Tip O’Neill. I remember a time congress had characters who were serving; and, when they were in the spotlight they came off just fine.

Did it go bad with Ken Starr and his sexual addiction, as if you could twist laws to please a bunch of blue noses? I have no idea.

And, I also know Newt Gingrich (bright as he is), isn’t to be trusted around anyone you love and hold dear. And, yes. I believe when he gets into an elevator you are on, hug your purse tight to your body!

What do most Americans think? Most Americans think it’s just too expensive to run for office. And, the dirty laundry that gets flung about is just disgusting.

    What the heck are you talking about? Did you ever read anything real about the Clinton scandals? Filegate, for example? You don’t need high technology to get all of the dirt on your enemies for political purposes.

    Perjury is a law. It does not need to be twisted. This is besides the credible evidence (even to ABC) of the rape of Januita Broadrick or K. Willey’s accusation of molestation with the evidence not matching Clinton’s side’s story?

    Or are perjury, rape, and molestation only matters of concern for “sex addicts”?

    P.S. I tried to read “the Truth at any Cost”, about the scandal from the viewpoint of the special council’s office, but I got so sick at how they were undercut at every turn that I had to stop. Contrast with Watergate, which was more or less a prank that was not that unusual. (But it was the cover-up. Well?)

ColonialGal | July 21, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Never ever let an enemy define the premise.

I have seen this measure numerous times and never understood it. In addition, they are proud of the rules and regulations they pass. I would think that one of the best politicians, actually a statesman, would be the person that voted no everyday and worked to get the government to the size where it would fit in a moderately sized office building. It seems that every time I turn a corner or preform any activity, I have the Federal government telling me what to do. If not the Feds then it is state or local government defining every action. As a physician, I can assure you that if you got the government out of medical care, the cost would drop by about 50-70%.

I frequently say that gridlock is a good thing in Congress. The less they can do to us, the better off we’ll be.

The oath they swear to the Constitution should constrain them, but fidelity to that oath seems to be absent.

charlesaustin | July 21, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Blah blah blah. “We must do something now!” has been the chant of Progressives Illiberal Utopian Statists for 100 years.

Phillep Harding | July 21, 2013 at 6:23 pm


I also have never understood how simple passage of laws was “Good”, but legislators at all levels try to pass this off as “a good thing”.

Pure idiocy.

Like change for the sake of change.

Congress is the problem, even more so than the devil in the white house.

We need an amendment that says that no new law can be passed unless two old ones are revoked.

    MarkS in reply to donmc. | July 21, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    It’s not so much the laws but the numerous regulations attached to them by nameless, unaccountable bureaucrats.

      chilipalmer in reply to MarkS. | July 21, 2013 at 11:57 pm

      “In 2011, the US Congress passed a total of 81 new “laws” while government agencies issued 3,807 new regulations.” Regulations of course are the same as laws. This expansion of the exec. branch has been welcomed all along by congress. It makes voters even less relevant. Obama just put out an exec. order to massively staff up the already massive regulatory agencies. The people will be volunteers at first with the idea of eventually adding them to the federal payroll. This 4th branch of gov., the unelected unaccountable branch, is like an EU governing the US. Not that the EU isn’t already running this country.

        Micha Elyi in reply to chilipalmer. | July 22, 2013 at 3:33 am

        Betcha a bunch of them 81 new laws ceded Congress’s power to make law to those faceless, unelected bureaucrats.

        But the root cause of the problem ain’t Congress. It’s the people who vote for (or fail to vote out) those members of Congress.

I remember talk when I was young about “do nothing” congresses.

It was made up by newspapers at the time.

“He who rules best, rules least.”

But then this is a common problem in Bureaucracy.

Everyone’s trying to appear useful, productive. It’s why they sometimes will disapprove something or find fault with an application just so they look like they’re doing their job and are necessary.

It’s why government contracts can become bloated. Some engineer or other minion decides to change this or that or add this or that and soon the whole project collapses because of the weight of unnecessary or useless changes.

    mzk in reply to jakee308. | July 22, 2013 at 6:28 am

    Harry Truman’s line. It worked, too.

    Of course, to repeal a bill, you need to pass a bill to repeal it. So that’s legislation. The type we need.

    I did see some major legislation that was short and simple, about half-a-page. It was called DOMA. The court didn’t seem to like that idea; if it had been “naunced”, it might have survived.

I’m always amazed when people seem aghast that the approval ratings for Congress are so low in the 10%-15% range. In this era of extreme partisan divide of this era I’m surprised the approval ratings aren’t even lower. No matter what the issue people get mad and disapprove of the other side of the aisle. Even if their agenda item wins out they hate the other side because they opposed it and may be critical of it afterward. It is not so much their disapproval of Congress but their extreme disapproval of half of the Congress. Of course there are sometimes people who a bit more dispassionate and may be in the middle but they view the total situation is not good (right track – wrong track) so the are disappointed in Congress as a whole that it can not improve things but tend to always be in a partisan struggle. The 10%-15% that don’t disapprove of Congress must be made up a strange diverse group from those who are sincerely dispassionate to those who don’t have a clue about anything and couldn’t care less.

    Baker in reply to Baker. | July 21, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    By the way, I agree with the saying quoted above,“He who rules best, rules least.” and many of the other sentiments offered above about excessive government.

    mzk in reply to Baker. | July 22, 2013 at 6:29 am

    Except that on our side it’s considered bad form to say anythign nice about the Republican party.

Given the despicable scum and refuse that now occupies the US Congress, the MOST any rational, sane American could hope for is that they follow the dictum “first do no harm.” But, clearly, even at that they have been a total FAILURE.

Another Voice | July 21, 2013 at 7:53 pm

The fact that after 230+ years using the mainframe of the Constitution, our laws have become like the home of a hoarder. We are smothering under the weight of our laws and the oppression of too much “stuff”. I agree with “donmc”, no new piece of legislation should be enacted without taking two if not more like pieces of legislation and streamlining the intent and application of the law. Paring back and lightening the load. We see the same encumbering structure of laws in NYS with it’s power to over regulate and the additional layers of government and taxation via Authorities even exceeding areas of our Federal government. The days they do nothing, is really a good day.

PersonFromPorlock | July 21, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Considering the very low esteem Congress is held in, what’s this congressional ‘success’ we’re rating? By either standard?

Congress could redeem itself by simply passing a blanket sunset law ending the function of EVERY government entity effective eighteen months after its passage and it’s signed into law.

Only a open public revue would be permitted for any program being considered for renewal. No lobbyists, no politics, nothing except a public review through interactive hearings.

Nothing would be renewed without justification and perhaps even a national referendum.

I’m a process guy and believe me folks, all of the waste, fraud and abuse ties directly into the process…

ignoring, of course, any and all effects it will have, all those pesky “unintended consequences”

I would argue that those consequences are generally not unintended.

MaggotAtBroadAndWall | July 21, 2013 at 11:31 pm

If you think about it, most of the laws that get passed are to fix prior government screw ups. Current examples:

We need entitlement reform because politicians have made promises that can’t be honored.

We need tax reform because the lawmakers have created so many loopholes, subsidies and credits over the years to benefit the people who help finance their campaigns that the current system is unworkable and unfair.

We need immigration reform, because the government refused to perform the most fundamental function of government – to secure the borders against foreign invaders. So now they want to grant citizenship to 12 million foreigners. People who never thought in their wildest dreams that they’d be granted citizenship for breaking the immigrations laws – yet the politicians in both parties are falling all over themselves to reward them with citizenship.

Obamacare is so flawed that if it’s not repealed in full it will be in a perpetual state of flux for years if not decades to come in the future as new laws are enacted to fix its the flaws.

So it seems to me that the vast majority of the “big” legislation that gets much of the press is to fix prior government screw ups.

Will Rogers was right…it’s a good thing we don’t get all the government we pay for.

Democrats-Republicans, not a lot of difference in the two. Neither one represents us, they are owned by international corporations.