The do-nothing efforts of the 114th Congress provide numerous opportunities for slam articles. Unfortunately, the power of the pen dwindles under the obstinate leadership of obstructionist right-wing Republicans.
Oh so much is not being done, from getting a justice appointed to the Supreme Court to helping seniors overcome the cost of living slight and to boosting the overall welfare of the country.
At my last count, only 31 pieces of legislation have been written into law in this congressional term. Hardly any of them would qualify as major.
Any chance of something being done? Well, fewer than 70 days are left on the Senate calendar to be in session.
President Obama is trying to do something about the congressional malaise. For example, he’s pushing back on the Senate’s efforts to block a vote on his nomination of appellate Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Monday, he took the political battle involving his pick for the court vacancy to the home states of seven Republican senators up for re-election in November. He conducted interviews with local television anchors where he argued that Republican senators should hold confirmation hearings and vote on his nomination.
The effort extended to the Kansas City area. “What my argument is: Let the American people see Judge Garland, let him answer questions, let them hear his responses,” Obama told WDAF-TV Fox 4 in Kansas City, a market that straddles states where senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jerry Moran of Kansas are up for re-election.
Obama also talked with a television anchor from Iowa, home to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who has helped lead efforts to block Garland. Obama also spoke in Ohio: Rob Portman, Wisconsin: Ron Johnson; Arizona: John McCain; New Hampshire: Kelly Ayotte.
According to Senate historians, the process to seat a justice fits neatly into a workable time frame. However, Republican leaders have been resolute that Obama’s successor, who will be elected on November 8 and take office on January 20, should fill the vacancy left in February by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Despite the Republican hope that a member of its party — Donald Trump appears to be the nominee now that Ted Cruz has dropped out — will select the next justice. That could backfire if Democrat Hillary Clinton wins the election.
The court is now split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals, meaning Scalia’s successor could influence its ideological direction for years to come.
The conservative bent in Congress has certainly hurt seniors, children and the infirm. The COLA on Social Security’s annual payments reflects the problems for seniors. With the COLA already squeezing the amount allotted to those on Social Security, Congress has chosen to ignore any relief.
Barbara Kennelly, CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said congressmen have ignored the reality of the situation, noting that the low rate of inflation overlooks how seniors’ costs are going up. “Health care costs especially are rising rapidly, and the elderly on fixed incomes spend a significantly larger share of their income on health care,” she said.
Retirees and those with disabilities know about the rising costs, especially medical care, prescription drugs, food and housing. Yet, because of a formula set up in Congress in the late 1970s, these people are receiving no increase this year in Social Security cost of living adjustments.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and 18 of her colleagues, introduced stopgap legislation to address the lack of an adjustment. Her proposal, called the Seniors and Veterans Emergency Benefits Act, would require the nation’s wealthiest to pay more.
The top 350 CEOs in the nation received a 3.9 percent raise in their pay last year. And she thought that if 3.9 percent was good enough for CEOs, it was good enough for seniors, people with disabilities and veterans.
The bill would provide a one-time payment equal to 3.9 percent of Social Security’s average benefit, or about $580. The bill would fund the payments by closing the “performance pay” loophole, which allows CEOs to escape the $1 million cap on their compensation, and their companies to deduct the excess compensation, at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $9.7 billion a year. In theory, the excess pay must be performance based — but research shows that it rises even when CEOs drive their companies into the ground.
Another report by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Effective Government shows, for example, that Gary Loveman, CEO of Caesar’s Entertainment, received in 2010 and 2011 “performance-based” and other fully deductible bonuses totaling $10 million for those two years, the same years the company experienced $1.5 billion in losses.
The bill has been referred to committee and faces a certain negative Republican response.
Of course, the Republicans are fighting on other fronts to smother those who need help. If the House of Representatives gets its way, Obama won’t be able to crack down on unnecessary fees that cost Americans billions of dollars in retirement savings a year.
The House recently voted 234 to 188 to undo a rule proposed by the Labor Department that would require anyone getting paid to provide retirement investment advice to act in the best interest of retirees. Many people think that’s already how things work, but it isn’t.
The way things work right now is that brokers who oversee retirement savings accounts can be paid extra to steer their clients into unnecessarily expensive funds or excessively risky investments, without disclosing that fact to their clients. That sort of conflicted investment advice costs Americans saving for retirement $17million a year, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
To remedy the situation, the Obama administration proposed a fiduciary rule to keep Wall Street from taking so much money in fees from retirement accounts. The financial industry has opposed the rule from the start, saying it will raise costs and limit the advice investors can receive.
Guess which side the House comes down on!
Well, the do-nothing Congress does something to do nothing. And so many suffer.