Critics Slam Congress as Legislative ‘Do Nothings’

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WASHINGTON -- The United States Senate has been called "the world's greatest deliberative body."

Lately, however, critics are complaining the upper chamber of Congress can only be described as "unproductive."

"The House is going to do its job, and it's time for the Senate then to do its job," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said.

The Republican-controlled House passed the 2012 budget last April. But the Senate - controlled by Democrats - missed the deadline.

In fact, more than 960 days have passed since it passed a budget, and some say it's unlikely the Senate will have one until well after the next election.

"We're not going to introduce a budget probably for the next 300 to 400 days. And we're being told that already," Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said.

Heller said the reason there won't be a budget next year is because Congress doesn't want to take tough political votes heading into the election cycle.

Without a budget to guide Congress and with increased spending under the Obama administration, Washington has gone further into debt.

Also, in the midst of a fiscal crisis with a weak economy and high unemployment, the polarization of politics has made it virtually impossible to pass a budget.

The budget is only one example of how partisanship has made it difficult for lawmakers to do their job, which is to legislate.

While there are some examples of Republicans and Democrats working together, they are few and far between.

Some believe there won't be any agreement on key issues without a clear mandate from American voters.
   
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said it's the only way out, likening the time between now and Election Day to "treading water, waiting for the verdict that will be rendered in 2012."

But given the big problems facing the country economically, some people like say America can't afford to waste time.

"We don't have 11 months," said Tyler Sax, who works with No Labels, a bipartisan group working to reform Congress. "We don't have time to wait to bring in people who are willing to work together."

His organization thinks Washington is broken, but it also believes there are simple fixes to correct the system.

Some of their ideas include:

  • Requiring a five-day work week for Congress, three weeks in Washington, and one week in their home districts.
  • Requiring an up or down vote on presidential nominations.
  • And most importantly, docking Congress' pay if they fail to produce an annual budget.

Heller is on board with the idea and has introduced the legislation in the Senate.

"If it takes us two weeks, six weeks, six months, I don't care. Whatever it takes in order to get that budget and appropriation bills passed, no member of Congress will be paid," Heller said.

If it were law, it would force Congress to do its job. But it's not. And some say the Senate is more likely to pass a budget than to ever vote for restrictions that could dock their own pay.

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