I’ve been going through a lot of legislative history recently. Occasionally, small facts stand out.
The first bill introduced to the 112th Congress was titled “Hurricane Sandy supplemental appropriations bill.” Only one person decided to put their name on this bill, a Representative Herald Rogers from Kentucky.
The second bill was named “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.” Not just one person decided to publicly support this bill: a full 182 members of Congress put their names on this bill.
Clearly, our country has gone bonkers. Horribly bonkers.
Until you take a second look.
The bill to provide aid to those harmed by the hurricane passed both the House and the Senate. Although this particular bill never became law, a closely related one, H.R. 152, was signed by Obama in the same month. Congress found a way to help people harmed by a natural disaster.
The bill to repeal Obamacare got lost in the Senate. Literally lost. Noone voted it down. The Senate just ignored it, like every other bill of its kind that our legislators use to proclaim their disdain for Obama.
The public was enthralled by this shiny activity around Obamacare. We were distracted by our dysfunction. Congress knew it too. The Republicans were playing for support from their conservative base. It’s worth taking a moment to consider how dysfunction satisfies the Republican base, but we should also pay attention to how policy changed. Because at the same time that Republicans were trumpeting discord, Congress was chugging away at making a real difference for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. It wasn’t perfect, to be sure, but it was a change in the right direction.
Lesson learned: sparkling activity, like lots of public support, doesn’t reveal the truth. At least for the first two bills of 2011, Congress got the policy right.