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Byrne: A ‘Do Nothing Congress’

Congress was sent home by Speaker Pelosi last Friday without securing a deal with the White House or the Senate on the next COVID bill. While we were told we might get a 24-hours’ notice to return, our calendar doesn’t show us coming back to Washington until November 16.

President Truman ran against the Republican majority 80th Congress (1947-49) as the “Do Nothing Congress” because it considered but refused to pass his “Fair Deal” program of liberal government initiatives as a follow on to President Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” In actuality, the 80th Congress was a very active one, passing major legislation including aid to Greece and Turkey as they faced Soviet-backed Communist insurgencies and the Marshall Plan, both significant parts of Truman’s anti-Communist program. They also passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which revised the National Labor Relations Act, and the National Security Act, a dramatic reorganization of U.S. defense and security efforts, including the creation of the Department of Defense, the Air Force, the CIA and the National Security Council.

The 116th Congress hasn’t come close to matching that level of legislative production. We spent virtually all last year on hearings regarding the Mueller investigation and the Democrats’ failed attempt to have President Trump removed from office. This year we had the sorry spectacle of the speaker ripping up her copy of the president’s State of the Union address and then a hurried flight from Washington in the spring and continuing into the summer.

We have passed four COVID bills which have been important to the national response to the disease and its effects on the economy, but nothing else of such national importance. We wasted a Saturday session in August on a false issue regarding the Postal Service (see how quickly that’s been forgotten) and chased our tails on numerous messaging bills that have no chance in the Senate. For its part, the Senate continues to confirm new conservative judges for the Federal judiciary because it doesn’t need the House to do that.

Pelosi did push yet another of her COVID bills last week which barely passed after 16 of her own members voted against it. The Senate won’t take it up, however, as it contains a host of non-COVID policies like marijuana banking and because it cuts funding to law enforcement (“Defund the Police” the Democrats say) while providing too much money to blue state and local governments which have totally mismanaged their COVID response.

We actually ended the week on a resolution condemning the QAnon conspiracy theory which was hardly an issue worth House attention during a pandemic. And then we left for six weeks.

I wasn’t elected to Congress to waste time, and my first five years were largely productive, even when the House had a Republican majority and Barack Obama was president. But these last two years have been a waste in the House because of Speaker Pelosi’s choice to use our valuable time on pointless failed attacks on President Trump and totally unrealistic messaging bills — that is, when she hasn’t sent us away from Washington for weeks at a time.

I don’t know what to predict when we return in November. It probably depends on who wins the elections. But if past is prologue, we in the House will end this Congress not with a bang but with wearied and loud gridlock, doing little or nothing, a true “Do Nothing Congress.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.