A Do-Nothing Congress Does Not Mean a Do-Nothing Government

I’ve got a little joke for you: If “pro-” is the opposite of “con-,” what is the opposite of “progress”?

Anyway… if only every Congress were as unproductive as the 113th Congress has been. It has been so monumentally torpid that it is being dubbed “the Do-Nothing Congress.” The Washington Post reports:

According to congressional records, there have been fewer than 60 public laws enacted in the first 11 months of this year, so below the previous low in legislative output that officials have already declared this first session of the 113th Congress the least productive ever. In 1995, when the newly empowered GOP congressional majority confronted the Clinton administration, 88 laws were enacted, the record low in the post-World War II era.

This is a good thing, honestly. At this point, we can have no hope that the majority or even major minority of Congressional actions will be for the good. Probably the best we can hope for is Congressional inaction. So long live the Do-Nothing Congress!

But, not so fast. Political pundits might point to the inactivity of Congress, the dearth of Executive Orders, and the practical non-existence of an “activist judiciary” as a sign that the Tea Party dream of a smaller, more limited government is becoming a reality. Yet the civil government’s budget dwarfs most national economies and the government intrudes into our lives more than ever. If the Do-Nothing Congress indicates that the government is getting smaller, why does it seem like it’s getting bigger?

Because it is, that’s why. But not in the traditional way. The Do-Nothing Congress is a smokescreen for a more sinister shift in the way the civil government gets things done. It used to be that, if Congress wasn’t moving fast enough, the President would speed things up with extra-Constitutional “executive orders.” But even that avenue has become too traditional. Obama has signed fewer executive orders than Clinton, George W., or Reagan. He seems so “limited government,” right? Wrong.

This government does not rule by law anymore. Not even executive law. This government rules by regulation now. Non-elected officials in government bureaucracies have the power. Bureaucrats can be appointed and fired at will, their actions exist in the vast gray area of the bureaucratic void, and they are now the blunt end of government power, largely free from the intrusion of the voter’s opinion. And the bureaucrats have been very busy. The Do-Nothing Congress has enacted 60 laws? Well the Do-Everything phantom bureaucracy has enacted countless rules and regulations, often without public notice.

A Do-Nothing Congress is not a do-nothing government. If we are going to rein it in, we need to insist that the civil government legislate by law, not by bureaucracy.