Monday, May 03, 2010

What Congress has wrought

In the current era of hope and change, when there is no problem too small demanding the federal government's attention, it would perhaps help to reflect on measures taken by Congress over the past 10 years. Here is a brief survey of some of the major legislation*:

107th Congress (2001-02)
  • June 7, 2001: Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (tax cuts)
  • October 26, 2001: Patriot Act
  • January 8, 2002: No Child Left Behind Act
  • March 27, 2002: Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold)
  • May 13, 2002: Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (farm bill)
  • July 30, 2002: Sarbanes-Oxley Act
  • August 6, 2002: Trade Act of 2002 (trade promotion authority)
  • November 25, 2002: Homeland Security Act
108th Congress (2003-04)
  • May 28, 2003: Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (tax cuts)
  • November 25, 2003: Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (Medicare drug bill)
109th Congress (2005-06)
  • April 20, 2005 — Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act
  • July 28, 2005 — Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act (CAFTA)
  • July 29, 2005 — Energy Policy Act of 2005
110th Congress (2007-08)
  • December 19, 2007 — Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007
  • February 13, 2008 — Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 (tax rebates)
  • May 22, 2008 — Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 (2007 Farm Bill)
  • July 30, 2008 — Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (Freddie and Fannie bailouts)
  • October 3, 2008 — Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (Wall Street bailouts)
111th Congress (2009-present)
  • February 17, 2009: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus package)
  • March 23, 2010: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare)
Looking over this list, who in their right mind can honestly say that the country is better off on net for all of this legislation having been passed? As I see it, outside of some free trade moves and tax cuts -- which were not offset with spending cuts -- the list is abysmal. An expansion of government intervention in education through No Child Left Behind which has achieved little if anything, pork-stuffed farm and energy bills, expansions of government in health care which push us closer to the fiscal precipice, further burdens on business in the form of Sarbanes-Oxley, restrictions on free speech through campaign finance reform whose staunchest defenders would be hard pressed to claim has made politics any more ethical or improved in any way, etc.

And yet, in spite of this sorry record, there seems to be an inevitable drumbeat for Congress to act in the face of every problem, real or imagined, which confronts the country. We'll all be better off when more of us realize that a busy legislature is not the cure to the problems which confront us, it's often the source.

* What constitutes "major legislation" is, of course, entirely subjective, which left out some -- in my opinion -- worthwhile bills such as the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the North Korean Human Rights Act. But I tried to go for those with the widest and deepest impact. Although there can be some quibbling, I think overall its a good list.

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