A lot has been made about the “do nothing” 112th and 113th congresses. The media has been using Congress’ lack of legislative output as a measure of their poor performance. I think a significant reason for the accusation that Congress is ineffective is due to the media and the public’s misconception as to what Congress’ role is.
For example, the link I included in the above paragraph is to a Bloomberg View article written by Barry Ritholtz discussing Congress’ alleged dysfunction. According to the article, one of Congress’ basic duties is to help educate the next generation of leaders and productive citizens and that Congress, along with a little help from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve, has been derelict in its duty.
Really? That seems to be a problem; that American society places all kinds of duties and expectations on Congress that the legislative body was never intended or designed to address, with educating society being among them. Congress, under Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, does have a number of powers, none of which give me the impression that Congress’ job is to drop manna from heaven. And the laws that Congress is expected to pass are for the purpose of putting those powers into actual force.
As an entrepreneur I’m not interested in Congress’ ability to drop manna. I’m interested in Congress’ regulation of trade and commerce between individuals and the fewer legal barriers to entering a market for the purpose of selling and buying goods and services, the better. My reading of the Congress’ powers as enumerated in the Constitution tells me that Congress was concerned primarily with how government could both promote commerce within and outside of America’s borders while protecting commerce from foreign attack.
Unfortunately when Congress starts racking up laws, those laws go more toward regulating day-to-day behavior, usually on an ex-ante versus ex-post basis. Of the 296 bills signed into law during the 113th Congress, only three appeared to have anything to do with the economy or markets.
For example, H.R. 3329 addressed enhancements to small financial institutions including boosting consumer savings at these banks. H.R. 3374 authorized the use of savings raffles to boost consumer savings. H.R. 5771 extended a number of business tax credits including credits for research and new market entry.
So, by my calculations just about three percent of bills passed into law had anything to do with the economy. From an entrepreneur’s view, Congress can’t exactly be called a “do nothing” Congress, but there is room for a lot more when it comes to keeping the Executive branch in check.