It’s hardly news to say that the American people are fed up with Congress. Public disapproval of the legislative branch is practically as old as the country itself. But lawmakers seemed to reach a new low in 2011.
One Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that one out of every three Americans considered the first session of the 112th Congress to “below average.” Another 42 percent said it was “one of the worst” in the institution’s 222-year history. A poll by CNN, meanwhile, found that only 41 percent think their representative should be re-elected -- the first time that figure had dropped below 50 percent.
Is this distrust deserved? Let’s review some of the issues Congress handled in 2011. We’ll start with the positives.
1) A Balanced Budget Amendment. This is the first shot of a long war to limit the size of government while making it virtually impossible to raise taxes to balance the budget.
The Senate recently had the opportunity to vote on a BBA sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., one that would exempted Social Security. This despite the fact that fast-growing entitlement spending is playing a huge role in our burgeoning national debt.
Udall’s BBA even threw in some class warfare. It would have enshrined the following provision in the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall not pass any bill that provides a net reduction in individual income taxes for those with incomes over $1 million.” But it was soundly defeated with votes from both parties.
In the House, a version supported by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., also crashed and burned. Its major problem: It would have made it easier for Congress to resort to higher taxes to help balance the budget. Or try to balance it, that is: Anyone who knows history can tell you that higher taxes inevitably leads to higher spending.
A stronger, sounder BBA would certainly be a good thing. In the Senate, Utah Republicans Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee did sponsor one that sidestepped the pitfalls of the Udall-Goodlatte approach. (It was voted down as well.) But avoiding a tax-hiking BBA definitely counts as a congressional positive.
2) Obamacare Repeal. The president’s signature law may be approaching a day of reckoning in the Supreme Court, but the House already did its part, voting 245 to 189 last January to repeal Obamacare. The vehicle: a bill sponsored by Rep. Eric Cantor, R.-Va., the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.
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