Bill Me Later

5 minute read
Joel Stein

As it heads off to recess until September, Congress has put only 22 bills on President Obama’s desk, which is only 22 more bills than I’ve put on his desk. Those 22 bills are way below the 453 measures that the Do-Nothing Congress averaged each year during Harry Truman’s first term. In fact, Congress is on track to crush its record of fewest bills passed per year, which was 88 in 1995, when the House had a contract with America, and, as everyone in the world knows, America likes its contracts short because America hates to read.

Worse, what Congress has passed this session are barely laws. Other than two for Hurricane Sandy relief and one to spare air-traffic controllers from the sequester, they’re mostly to do things you shouldn’t even need Congress for: appointing a chief financial officer for D.C., picking a diameter for baseball’s Hall of Fame commemorative coins and naming a bridge in St. Louis for Stan Musial. If this is what Congress is doing, it completely explains C-SPAN’s ratings.

To get Congress’s numbers up, I came up with a list of easy-to-pass bills and offered them to members of the House of Representatives. Gwen Moore (D., Wis.) was excited about anything that could help get bills past the Tea Party, which she feels has prevented anything from passing. “It not only makes my job frustrating, it also makes John Boehner’s job frustrating. That’s why he cries all the time,” she said. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) blamed Obama, who he said hasn’t engaged on working out compromises between the House and Senate. Chaffetz also thinks the restriction of earmarks has made passing bills harder. Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.) just seemed sad. “It bums me out on a daily basis,” he said. “And now that they’re closing post offices, there goes our opportunity to be bipartisan by naming post offices.”

Before I even ran my ideas by him, Chaffetz listed a few proposals that seemed easy to pass. My favorite was to move Halloween to the last Friday of the month, so kids could stay out later and people could party longer. DeFazio was in, but Moore refused to give her support. “It will throw off All Saints’ Day and the Day of the Dead, which are on Nov. 1.” Instead, Moore suggested two new holidays: one for public service and a National Day to Celebrate Creativity, where you’d have to do some kind of performance or crochet. Chaffetz, let’s just say, does not perform or do crochet and thinks the National Day of Service is called Sunday and happens at church. DeFazio, a co-chair of the House Small Brewers Caucus–which is a real thing with real meetings where they serve real beer–suggested creating American Craft Brew Appreciation Day, but I am not at all sure this is something he should be letting the electorate know about.

I was starting to see just how anodyne my ideas were going to have to be to get by these obstructionists. So I suggested giving an award to Tom Hanks, which I figured would be no problem since everybody loves him. But I was very, very wrong. “Tom is so overtly a Democrat,” Chaffetz said, killing my bill. “He is a good actor, though. When I want to fall asleep at night, I put on Cast Away.” Moore wasn’t interested either. “We’re limited to how many gold medals and medals of honor we can give. I’d rather give one to Oprah Winfrey.” I didn’t even bother going back to Chaffetz on that one.

Chaffetz was with me on eliminating the penny, but DeFazio was a coin collector and Moore likes to give pennies to her granddaughter. DeFazio was down with having Congress take a 5% pay cut, but Chaffetz thought it was gimmicky, and Moore apparently has a bit of debt she has to dig out of, which I fear explains why her granddaughter is getting pennies.

One problem with my mission, Chaffetz explained, is that conservatives aren’t into passing more laws, since by definition that expands government. “I wish I could pass a law that said if you pass a law, you have to take away a law,” he said. That made sense to me. You legalize gay marriage, you get rid of the law against marijuana. I’m pretty sure this is exactly what the GOP is thinking, although I didn’t ask Chaffetz specifically.

Finally, I found an idea that all three liked: a bill to declare that America is the greatest country in the world. “Nobody would vote against that,” Chaffetz said. “Increase our pompous attitude around the world? That would be in line with what we’re good at.”

The America Is the Greatest Country in the World bill, I’m hoping, will make it out of committee by the end of September and pass in 2014, bumping Congress’s number up to 23. I wish I could have done more. But to hit 24, I’m going to have to make the Small Brewers Caucus work late one night and get Congress completely loaded.

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