The “Bottomless Pit:” The U.S. Congress

It is almost humorous to watch as the ineffectiveness in government in Washington is exposed every day — especially in legislative matters. Obtaining Congressional action is a sham. Its operations are comical. It seems to the American public to be unmanageable and its leadership is purely political with no real legislative objectives visible. And the apparent disarray in operations at Congress seems to carry over into every other division of government.

If this chaos of operations in American government was specific to one department alone, it would certainly be simple enough to analyze its issues, devise a fix or two, and implement those corrections. But it is NOT exclusive to the Legislative branch. But today we restrict this conversation to the U.S. Congress. 

Congressional Chaos

I honestly do not understand how Congress gets anything accomplished regarding legislative matters. Actually, there are those who feel Congress gets NOTHING (or very little) done at all.

The powers of the United States Congress are set forth in Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution. The constitutionally granted powers of Congress are further defined and interpreted by the rulings of the Supreme Court, and by its own rules, customs, and history. The powers explicitly defined by the Constitution are called the “enumerated” powers. Of all the powers of Congress, none is more important than its enumerated power to make laws. The Constitution sets forth the powers of Congress in specific language. It states, “Congress shall have Power … To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” Laws aren’t simply conjured out of thin air, of course. In fact, the legislative process is quite involved and designed to ensure that proposed laws are given careful consideration.

In addition to the explicit powers of the Constitution, Congress also has additional implied powers derived from the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution. Through the Supreme Court’s many interpretations of the Necessary and Proper Clause and the Commerce Clause—the enumerated power to regulate interstate commerce—such as McCulloch v Maryland, the true range of the lawmaking powers of Congress extends far beyond those enumerated in Section 8.

Congress can also investigate pressing national issues and it is charged with supervising and providing a balance for the executive and judicial branches. It is this power and responsibility of Congress that seems to perpetuate the feelings of Americans that Congress doesn’t get very much done. Congress seems to spend more collective time looking for issues of others in government and chasing those involved in those issues they find to “fix” them. The problem is that in these cases, those in Congress seems to forget the primary role it serves in government is “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.”

Maybe all the effort required to “make all laws” is so exhausting that members of Congress forget all the other stuff and they just continually run in circles chasing rabbits. But to most Americans, Congress seems to accomplish very little!

2017 U.S. Congress “Big” Accomplishments

In that most Americans doubt Congress does much of anything, Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) argues that the U.S. House of Representatives is getting things done. The Congressman on his website published a list of the greatest accomplishments of Congress in 2017. Let’s look at them:

(If you want details of any of these bills, click on the hyperlink to be transferred to see the actual bill)

These ten Congressional accomplishments — according to Congressman Shimkus — are the MOST important Congressional accomplishments of 2017! Obviously, his list includes specific bills that originated in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed some bills, too. But it takes both Houses to pass bills that find their way to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Of those ten bills listed by Congressman Shimkus as THE significant legislative 2017 accomplishments, only two were actually signed into law! None of the others — including any that the U.S. Senate passed — even made it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for presidential signature. Shimkus did NOT mention the tax bill that passed just before Christmas, 2017. But it did not go into effect until January 1, 2018.

Regarding U.S. Senate:

The role of the Senate was conceived by the Founding Fathers as a check on the popularly elected House of Representatives. Thus, each state, regardless of size or population, is equally represented. Further, until the Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution (1913), election to the Senate was indirect, by the state legislatures. They are now elected directly by voters of each state.

The Senate shares with the House of Representatives responsibility for all lawmaking within the United States. For an act of Congress to be valid, both houses must approve an identical document.

The Senate is given important powers under the “advice and consent” provisions (Article II, section 2) of the Constitution: ratification of treaties requires a two-thirds majority of all senators present and a simple majority for approval of important public appointments, such as those of cabinet members, ambassadors, and judges of the Supreme Court. The Senate also adjudicates impeachment proceedings initiated in the House of Representatives, a two-thirds majority being necessary for conviction.

It was in this role that in 2017 the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing Justice Antonin Scalia who passed away. SCOTUS confirmations in tandem with the confirmation of several hundred other federal judges is the most critical role of the U.S. Senate. While there were numerous judicial nominees whose appointments were confirmed in 2017, the Senate finished the year with many more empty federal judgeship nominations awaiting confirmations.

U.S. Congress Operational Budget

There are 535 members of Congress: 435 in the House of Representatives and 100 members of the Senate. Obviously, each member of Congress has a support staff and offices and must operate in Washington D.C. AND in their respective districts because they represent people — voters — and therefore must interact with their constituents. Needless to say, operating this branch of the government must be REALLY expensive, right? How much does it cost to run Congress?

Getting that information should be pretty simple: one just does a Google search for “Congress annual operating budget,” right? Wrong! I tried that. I spent the better part of one hour trying to find the annual operating budget of Congress. When I searched, I found numerous links to the GOVERNMENT’S operating budget. In fact, those searches resulted in copious documentation detailing the budgets of EVERY department of the U.S. Government for every year for the last 15 years. But I found just one reference to the actual operating budget of JUST Congress. And that reference was for one year. Based on an article on Huffington Post dated 2/25/2009, the current annual operating budget is $4.4 Billion. That is roughly $8.2 Million per member of Congress. Or $3348.55 per second! That “Congress current annual operating budget” was for 2009 — 10 years ago.

$4.4 Billion sounds like a lot of money. It sounds like a lot more when it’s broken down into $8.2 Million per member. Based on “normal” U.S. Government operational practices, who thinks that $4.4 Billion number is probably quite a bit higher than the current number?

I DID find this information buried in an article: “The 2011 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill, which includes Congress’ operating budget, totaled $4.63 billion, which includes $926 million for the Senate, $1.371 billion for the House of Representatives, $337.2 million for the Capitol Police, which includes 1,800 Capitol Police officers and 393 civilians, and $147 million for the Government Printing Office.”


Americans are aghast at how little legislative work is completed in Congress. If Americans all were aware of how slim their accomplishments are, there would be a revolt. It is unfathomable that with the edicts given to members of Congress in general elections by voters, the will of voters is summarily pushed aside when Congress is gaveled into session.

In 2016, Americans gave Donald Trump an electoral landslide for the presidency. Why? Americans — with the exception of most from big coastal states and a spattering in between coasts — agreed with his policy commitments he would push through if elected. Americans forgot that a president cannot pass laws: it takes two houses in Congress to put a bill on a president’s desk to be signed into law. This Congress has done very little of that. And in doing so, Congress has (on the most part) ignored the Trump policy promises to Americans for which he was elected.

Americans know the failure to fund a border wall, defund and replace Obamacare, fix immigration laws, and cut runaway government spending have not happened — not because of President Trump, but because of Congress. Here’s Trump in a speech the day after the Senate rejected even consideration of a bill to repeal a portion of Obamacare:

He unfortunately had to make similar speeches about the failure of Congress to reform immigration laws, (and he presented a bill to Congress to do so that failed in a vote) the total funding of a southern border wall, cuts in federal spending — all of which were promises he made during the 2016 presidential campaign. None of these have been implemented. Their failed implementation is NOT the President’s fault — the fault lies at the feet of members of Congress.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (who is on his way out of Congress) has claimed famously that the House of Representatives has passed numerous bills that the Senate has failed to pass or simply refused to consider, let alone pass. But that’s just politics: every American who studies how Congress works knows that the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader together decide which issues will be considered in each House long before they are added to the House or Senate agenda.

The lack of legislative accomplishments in this Congress is due primarily to the failures of Congressional leadership: in this case, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. And their failure was with Republican majorities in both Houses WITH A REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT WAITING TO SIGN THOSE BILLS INTO LAW.

Who knows if Americans can achieve changes in Congress to break the roadblock that keeps the legislative will of voters from being actualized. Members of Congress on both sides tell their party members they simply need large majorities to achieve legislatively the will of the people.

Here is my opinion on the matter: there needs to be a unified effort on the part of American voters that does NOT rely on participation by current members of Congress or those who will run for Congress in the future. This unified effort needs to be concise, intense, and demanding of all those in office or those running, and needs to be transparent to every American.

One example of such an effort that worked dramatically was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” that was used by G.O.P. members of Congress to push through meaningful legislative changes during the Clinton Administration. Americans rallied around that “Contract” because it was a specific group of legislative agenda items that members were each asked if they would support or not in Congress. And Americans held them responsible for not only those commitments but their votes when those items came up.

We need to see that or something similar happen again — IMMEDIATELY. It’s too late for the midterm elections. But it’s not too early to get started for 2020. Getting a document with items agreed to will not be easy. But “Anything worth having is worth hurting for.” This is definitely “worth having.” I don’t mind (and don’t think other Americans will mind) hurting a little.

Oh. One other thing: What should we  call it? Let’s hear from YOU! Comment in the home page Comments section or email me your suggestions at



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