Worst Congress ever? Or are we judging by the wrong metric?

Posted on July 8, 2013 by

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Bloomberg reports that the current Congress is on pace to produce far less legislation than previous Congress’s, and suggests the problem is due to Republican ideology.  But is this a problem?  Or is the Bloomberg report itself rather a reflection of a differing ideology?  Brookings Scholar Thomas Mann says,

The 113th Congress is on track to be even less productive than the historic 112th Congress,” said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “The problem arises from a Republican House unwilling and unable to engage in the normal process of negotiation and compromise with the president, and their continued willingness to live with a destructive sequester.”

To make an assessment on efficiency, one has to make an assessment based on costs and benefits.  The report implicitly asserts that the measure of the benefits that accrue to the American people are the amount of bills passed and signed by the president.  But is that not rather a normative (value-laden) assessment dressed up as a positive (fact-based) analysis?  Note that there is no attempt at measuring the quality of the legislation passed.  Most Americans care less about this type of efficiency and much more about the substance of the legislation–whether they are on the left or the right.  For instance, if you are a proponent of expanding production in the U.S. and wanted Keystone pipeline approved (which it looks like Mr. Obama is finally going to do), Mr. Obama’s refusal to do so and resist Republican bills intended to force that outcome is a major problem, but not one captured by this measure of efficiency.

The report correctly highlights the Republicans institutional preference for less government, and then uses a metric for efficiency that can be maximized only by an ideology in favor of more government!    Congress could have easily pleased Mr. Mann and others on the left simply by passing Mr. Obama’s agenda.  But for the other half of America that put the Republicans in charge of the House, that would not be very efficient.

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