The beginning of a new year is a time for resolutions and taking stock, and for members of Congress a lot of resolutions and stock-taking may be in order.
In its first year in session, the 112th Congress is objectively the most unpopular Congress since such things have been polled. Just how unpopular? Let us count the ways.
An NBC/WSJ poll found 42 percent of respondents believe that the 112th was one of the worst congresses ever — the highest percentage ever for the poll, which began in 1990.
Fifty percent of Americans said the current Congress has accomplished less than other recent ones, according to a Dec. 15 Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll.
In fact, two-in-three voters in the poll said most members of Congress should be voted out – the highest on record. The number who said their own member should be replaced matched the all-time high set in 2010.
And congressional approval ratings fell to an all-time low of 9 percent this year, making the legislative branch just slightly more popular than a swift kick to the groin.
The American public’s near-universal disapproval of Congress may have had something to do with the legislative branch’s struggle to perform its most basic function: keep the federal government running.
The first near-shutdown occurred in April, when Congress failed to pass a 2011 federal budget.
Then the debt ceiling crisis dragged on for two months in June and July before a last-minute deal narrowly averted another government shutdown. Four days later, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time in history, citing gridlock in Washington as one of the primary reasons.
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration lost funding for more than two weeks in late July after Congress failed to pass a short-term budget extension for the agency. The reason: House Republicans wanted to cut millions of dollars in subsidies to rural airports, several of which were located in the districts of prominent Democrat legislators.
While Democrats accused Republicans of “government by hostage-taking” and Republicans accused Democrats of “playing politics,” 4,000 FAA employees were furloughed and around 200 airport construction projects were halted, affecting somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 construction jobs. The federal government also lost about $30 million per week in airline tax revenue.
Another government shutdown was avoided in September. This time emergency funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was at issue, with Republicans demanding spending cuts to offset additional disaster-relief funds. Democrats balked at the cuts, and the situation was only salvaged when FEMA announced it had enough funds to carry on until the next budget battle.
The so-called 12-member “super-committee” — created out of the ruins of the debt ceiling showdown and tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in budget cuts — failed to reach an agreement by its Nov. 23 deadline, surprising exactly no one.
Congress decided to close out the year in style with one more game of chicken over the payroll tax-cut extension.
Overall, the federal government almost shut down no less than four times this year thanks to congressional gridlock. (Speaking of four, that’s the number of times Speaker of the House John Boehner cried in public this year.)
The House passed 25 bills it touted as “job-creators,” but none of them made it to the floor of the Senate. And President Barack Obama could only get a few pieces of his American Jobs Act through Congress, leading him decry the “do-nothing Congress” and vow to go around it to spur job-growth.
The definition of a “jobs bill” is murky, but Fox News estimates only six were passed by Congress: three trade deals, a patent reform package, a repeal of a withholding provision for government contractors and the year-end payroll tax cut extension.
But never let it be said the 112th Congress did nothing. After all, it did manage to rename 10 post offices.
If 2011 was a bad year for getting bills through Congress, it was a worse year for sex-crazed politicians.
New York Republican Rep. Chris Lee thought it would be a good idea to trawl for casual sex on Craigslist, so he responded to a dating ad with a picture of himself, shirtless and flexing. Lee, married with children, resigned three hours after the picture was published on Gawker, proving that congressmen can act fast when they need to.
Most politicos assumed Lee would be the best congressional sex scandal of 2011, but then there was New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, who tweeted a picture of his turgid loins to a young lady. And lo, the heavens parted, the angels sang and the light of heaven shined down upon the nation’s headline writers.
When Weiner finally resigned after a week of issuing ambiguous non-denials, The Daily Caller played him off with one of our all-time best headlines: “Weiner pulls out after long and wild ride; member couldn’t keep it up any longer, limps away.”
Democratic Oregon Rep. David Wu also resigned in 2011 after an 18-year-old girl accused him of unwanted sexual advances. This followed a February report of erratic behavior during his campaign, including sending his staff photos of himself dressed in a tiger costume.
All told, Congress — and voters — might prefer to let the old acquaintances of 2011 be long forgot.