WASHINGTON - The 109th Congress recesses this weekend for November’s elections having earned a reputation among scholars as a ‘‘do-nothing Congress’’ of historic proportions.
It failed to enact a host of once top-priority legislation on issues such as overhauling Social Security, immigration and lobbying laws. None of those is expected to be resolved in Congress’ brief lame-duck session after the elections.
Lawmakers worked threeday weeks and took lots of time off. Both parties generally eschewed compromise. The Republican-led Congress conducted little meaningful oversight of the Bush administration and its policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet the do-nothing label belies at least three substantial legacies that this Congress will leave the nation:
• A surge in pork-barrel projects for lawmakers’ constituents back home.
• Deference to a sameparty president that shifted unchecked power to the executive branch and extended government’s reach into people’s private lives.
• New rules that permit the government to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely without charges, to use harsh interrogation measures on them if the president approves and to convict them using evidence that would be inadmissible in any other court.
‘‘The post-9/11 world is a hugely different world, and the way the Congress functions has changed fundamentally,’’ said Senate Budget Committee chairman Judd Gregg, RN.H. ‘‘We’re so overwhelmingly absorbed by the issue of our national security and keeping ourselves from being attacked again.’’
Voters aren’t happy with either party.
A New York University national survey released Friday showed that most
Americans think that Congress either can’t or won’t fix longterm problems, such as global warming, Social Security, Medicare and even aging roads and bridges.
Two of Washington’s most respected scholars of Congress — Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank, and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right research center — co-authored a new book on Congress, ‘‘The Broken Branch.’’ They argue that Congress is at a self-inflicted nadir.
On balance, scholars say Republican congressional leaders ignored their duty to question decision-making and investigate corruption within the Bush administration.
‘‘They’ve done almost no oversight on the war or almost anything that matters,’’ Ornstein said.
There’s one area, however, in which scholars say members of both parties have excelled over the past two years: Serving their constituents massive amounts of porkbarrel spending.
The taxpayer watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste identified 9,963 special pork projects in the federal budget this year — worth $29 billion. In 1996, the group found 958 projects worth less than $13 billion.
A closer look
Sworn in in January 2005, the 109th Congress was poised to help President Bush carry out an ambitious agenda for conservatives on fiscal, religious and social issues. Republicans scored some victories, but had more mixed results or high-profile failures.
• More lenient rules for interrogating and trying terrorism suspects.
• Confirmation of two U.S. Supreme Court justices and other conservative jurists.
• Pension revisions.
• Funding for fence construction along U.S.-Mexican border.
• Renewal of the Patriot Act.
• Tax cuts for individuals and businesses.
• Bankruptcy and tort-law overhauls.
• Omnibus energy and transportation bills.
• Allowing transport of cheap prescription drugs from Canada.
• Social Security and Medicare fiscal changes.
• Comprehensive lobbying law changes.
• Passage of most annual appropriations bills.
• Constitutional bans on same-sex marriage and flag burning.
• Repeal of estate tax.
• Minimum wage increase.
• Closing gaps in Medicare prescription drug plan.
• Expanded offshore oil and gas exploration.
• Restrictions on president’s warrantless wiretap program.
• Action against identity theft.
• Action to curb global warming.