The Congress That's Never There

Elspeth Reeve and Philip Bump

This lackadaisical work schedule galls not just because the public looks on at D.C. and wonders why Speaker John Boehner and President Obama don't bother to make a deal, but because the House Republicans have declared victory by showing up, cheering along as Boehner publicly declared he would not negotiate at all with Obama. Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise told The New York Times' Ashley Parker: "I think Friday will be an important day that shows we’re finally willing to stand and fight for conservative principles and force Washington to start living within its means. And that will be a big victory." South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney told The Times, "He’s doing exactly what he said he was going to do, and I think it’s working to our favor and to his." Idaho Rep. Raúl R. Labrador said Republicans were happy their leader was no longer a pawn of the White House: "I think he realized the president of the United States was using him as a tool for his own benefit and was not actually in a partnership with him, and he also realized that we in the House were not happy with what was coming out of those negotiations." NBC News' First Read observes, "A conspiracy theorist might conclude that politicians want the cuts to go through while not getting blamed for them."

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According to the Washington Times' Futility Index, the last congress was the least-productive ever. They had a lot of off-time, but they also wasted their on-time. 

At its peaks, Congress adopted more than 200 conference reports in a two-year session, the Senate met for nearly 3,000 hours while the House met for nearly 2,500 hours, and the chambers combined to enact more than 1,000 laws.

But in 2011 and 2012, Congress produced just 10 conference reports, the Senate met for little more than 2,000 hours and the House for 1,700, and the two chambers combined to enact fewer than 230 laws. 

One of the laws enacted was the Budget Control Act of 2011, which created a supercommittee tasked with coming up with a deficit-reduction deal that would replace the sequester. As the supercommittee approached its deadline, talks devolved into Republicans and Democrats fighting over how they would break the news they had failed: press conference or written statement?

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More nothingness is coming. Rep. Paul Ryan has promised to use the debt ceiling -- as in, not raise it to pay bills the U.S. owes -- to get more spending cuts for Obama. And if Congress does nothing at the end of this month, we'll have a government shutdown.