Back on the Hill, Different Day, Not Much Has Changed

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I’m back on the Hill in the office of Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge.  Rep. Fudge represents Cleveland and Akron, Ohio and currently serves as chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus.  Rep. Fudge sits on the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Education and the Workforce.  Both are areas of great interest to social workers.  It’s a wonderful office to be in these days as spirits are riding high with the return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the prospects of a “Johnny Football” Manziel-led Cleveland Browns going to the NFL playoffs.  On top of that the Republican National Committee (RNC) recently selected Cleveland as the site for their 2016 presidential nominating convention and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just opened a fashion exhibition of Beyoncé’s personal collection.  Cleveland is on the rise!

Capitol HillSo what’s happening on the Hill?  Not much.  This, the 113th Congress is on track to be the least productive in history with 128 laws passed to date.  You don’t have to go too far back to find the least productive Congress before this—it was the 112th Congress which passed a total of 284 laws.  With 30 working days left, there is minimal probability that this Congress will pass 200 laws.  You have to go back to the 93rd Congress (1973-1974) which passed 772 laws to find the most productive Congress in the past 20 years.  The average number of laws passed during the last 20 sessions of Congress was 564.  Enough said.

Keep in mind that many of the bills that pass both the House and Senate and are then signed into law by the President are ceremonial—that is they are laws that name a post office, courthouse, or airfield after prominent individuals or award medals to distinguished people or organizations.  Many of the laws passed are extensions of previously enacted legislation.  Many important bills are stalled.

So what gives?  Why are Republicans in the House so consumed by parsimony that they refuse to invest in things that are vital to the social and economic health of the country?  Their dislike for President Barack Obama is well documented so their opposition to Obamacare—a term they coined in disdain is expected if not defensible.  You would think Republicans would welcome the fact that 8 million people have purchased health insurance through the Affordable Care Act another 6.7 million have signed up for Medicaid.  Yet, the House has voted more than 50 times to repeal all or some part of the ACA while not being able to present an alternate plan.

It was a struggle for the House to agree to a consensus on the Farm Bill passed earlier this year.  Ultimately House Republicans and the Democratic-led Senate settled on a bill with an $8.6 billion reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that issues food stamps to eligible households.  This, at a time when the Department of Agriculture reported more than 47 million Americans had difficulty putting adequate food on their tables in 2012.

Legislation currently stalled in the House includes the reauthorization of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) which is the comprehensive transportation and infrastructure bill that funds highways, mass transit, bridges and other projects related to transportation.  Despite the fact that many of the nation’s bridges, airports and highways are crumbling, lawmakers cannot find a compromise to provide adequate resources to rebuild America’s infrastructure.  The Highway Trust Fund will run out of money before Congress returns from its five-week recess that begins Friday if it fails to pass stopgap legislation this week.  A 10-month, $11 billion patch is expected to be voted on by the Senate before week’s end.

Congress has not figured out what to do with the thousands of immigrant youth coming across the border to seek asylum in the U.S.  It appears no action will be taken on President Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to address the problem.  A 2008 law protecting trafficking victims makes it difficult to send youth back to their home countries other than Mexico and Canada.  Of course a comprehensive immigration bill is needed but may not get a hearing until after the 2016 elections.

Monday, the House and Senate agreed on a $17 billion bill to reform the Veterans Administration with $10 billion set aside for veterans to use at non-VA medical facilities.  The bill was almost a no-go as House Republicans sought to offset spending with cuts to other programs.  You know things are out of control when it is difficult for lawmakers to agree on providing adequate healthcare for veterans.

The bottom line is this is the only government we’ve got so we need to be involved in trying to make it better.  More social workers are needed in politics and policy.

Written By Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D

Back on the Hill, Different Day, Not Much Has Changed was originally published @ Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy » Charles Lewis and has been syndicated with permission.

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