Speedy House off­sets 2nd-worst Se­nate

The Wash­ing­ton Times’ in­dex shows good pace for leg­isla­tive floor ac­tiv­ity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Big-ticket items like an Oba­macare re­peal or tax re­form may elude them, but law­mak­ers are still off to a fast start to the cur­rent Congress, ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Times Leg­isla­tive Ac­tiv­ity In­dex, which shows a newly uni­fied gov­ern­ment in Wash­ing­ton pass­ing bills at a clip not seen since the early days of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

It’s the House that has led the way, notch­ing a leg­isla­tive record that puts it in the top 25 per­cent of ses­sions of Congress dat­ing back to just after World War II, when the Con­gres­sional Record be­gan to pub­lish monthly tal­lies of floor ac­tiv­ity.

Yet the Se­nate con­tin­ues to lag, with law­mak­ers in the up­per cham­ber rank­ing near the bot­tom of the past 71 ses­sions of Congress when it comes to the num­ber of bills cleared by the cham­ber, vol­ume of floor ac­tiv­ity and — per­haps most strik­ing — the slow pace of con­fir­ma­tions.

On that last mea­sure, it’s the sec­ond­worst start to a year on record and by far the worst start to a pres­i­den­tial term.

It’s caus­ing fric­tion be­tween the two cham­bers. Repub­li­can lead­ers said Wed­nes­day that 226 bills have cleared the House but are now piled up in the Se­nate, stuck in grid­lock.

Those mea­sures in­clude a crack­down on sanc­tu­ary cities and re­peat il­le­gal im­mi­grants, a re­write of the 2010 Wall Street re­form law and even an Oba­macare re­peal, which the House ap­proved — after a false start — in May.

The House on Wed­nes­day passed bills crack­ing down on hu­man traf­fick­ing and is mov­ing the dozen an­nual spend­ing bills through the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee.

“Ob­vi­ously, we’re far ahead of the pace,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, said Tues­day. “The House, as you know, in­sti­tu­tion­ally can move a lot faster than the Se­nate. The House also does not have to deal with per­son­nel, with am­bas­sadors and as­sis­tant sec­re­taries and all the rest, or the Supreme Court.”

Some sig­nif­i­cant bills have cleared both cham­bers and been signed into law, in­clud­ing an over­haul of ac­count­abil­ity rules for the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and the re­peal of Obama-era reg­u­la­tions.

But Democrats said the list of ba­sic bills re­main­ing is stun­ning.

The dead­line for a 2018 bud­get was April 15, yet nei­ther cham­ber has writ­ten one. In­fra­struc­ture — an is­sue on which both sides of the aisle thought they could reach bi­par­ti­san agree­ment — also has fallen by the way­side. In ad­di­tion, dead­lines are loom­ing in the fall for rais­ing the debt limit and avoid­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

“Repub­li­cans have yet to pass a sin­gle ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill. There’s also been no jobs bill, no in­fra­struc­ture bill, no bud­get, and no plan to avert a cat­a­strophic de­fault on the full faith and credit of the United States,” the of­fice of Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, said in a memo Wed­nes­day.

The lack of a bud­get is a par­tic­u­lar black eye for Repub­li­cans, who in pre­vi­ous years mocked Democrats for their in­abil­ity to pass a blue­print. At one point, the Repub­li­can-led House even forced through the No Bud­get, No Pay Act of 2013, which with­held law­mak­ers’ pay un­til they ap­proved a bud­get for the next fis­cal year.

Mr. Ryan has pre­dicted that this could be the most pro­duc­tive Congress in mod­ern his­tory. Just weeks ago, he said it’s al­ready “the most pro­duc­tive Congress since the mid-’80s.”

The Times’ Leg­isla­tive Ac­tiv­ity In­dex doesn’t bear that out. Ac­cord­ing to the in­dex, which uses Con­gres­sional Record sta­tis­tics to eval­u­ate the over­all pace of ac­tiv­ity on the cham­ber floors, 2017 ranks 57th out of the 71 years for which records ex­ist.

Taken alone, the House, which Mr. Ryan over­sees, was fairly ac­tive, clear­ing some 260 bills and joint res­o­lu­tions through the cham­ber and hav­ing 29 of its bills signed into law.

Sen­a­tors, though, lagged well be­hind, notch­ing the fifth-worst year on record. Par­tic­u­larly dam­ag­ing to sen­a­tors was the lack of ac­tion on nom­i­na­tions, mak­ing 2017 the sec­ond-worst year on record through the first six months. The only worse year was 1999.

The nom­i­na­tion grid­lock has grown so bad that Democrats over the past cou­ple of weeks mounted a fil­i­buster of a fed­eral judge who was orig­i­nally nom­i­nated by Pres­i­dent Obama.

David C. Nye, a state court judge in Idaho, was nom­i­nated to the fed­eral bench in April 2016, but his nom­i­na­tion stalled as the end of Mr. Obama’s ten­ure neared. Mr. Trump renom­i­nated Judge Nye in May.

The judge was fi­nally ap­proved on a 100-0 vote Wed­nes­day, but only after Democrats, in ad­di­tion to forc­ing a fil­i­buster vote, made the Se­nate run the clock on 30 hours of de­bate time on a nom­i­na­tion they unan­i­mously sup­ported.

Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, said if Democrats con­tinue that level of ob­struc­tion, it would take the cham­ber more than 11 years to get a full ad­min­is­tra­tion in place.

“This is not about chang­ing an out­come; it’s about wast­ing time to make it more dif­fi­cult for the pres­i­dent to make ap­point­ments,” he said Tues­day, chastis­ing Democrats for the de­lays.

Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat, coun­tered that Repub­li­cans shared the blame be­cause they con­trolled the Se­nate last year and could have sped Judge Nye’s nom­i­na­tion through the cham­ber. But Repub­li­cans were in­tent on block­ing Obama court picks, con­firm­ing fewer than any other Congress in nearly 60 years.

Mr. Schumer said Repub­li­can com­plaints were an at­tempt “to shift the blame and at­ten­tion away from their health care bill.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wall Street charges ahead after the re­peal of Obama-era reg­u­la­tions passed both cham­bers of Congress and have been signed into law. Ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Times Leg­isla­tive Ac­tiv­ity In­dex, 2017 ranks 57th out of the 71 years for which records ex­ist for floor ac­tion.

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