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Column: Congress’ performance falls short

Was the glass half-empty or half-full? How you rate Congress’ performance in the session just ended may depend on your perception of how government should function.

If you believe in laissez faire; he who governs least, governs best, you were happy to see Congress leave Washington before it could do any more damage to the Republic.

If you believe in taking seriously the responsibilities spelled out in Article I of the Constitution (the one that begins “Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the Unites States”) you probably were disappointed.

Several have pointed out this was not one of the more energetic sessions of Congress. The House met in session for a total of 86 days, the fewest since it began keeping records in 1948.

In what may be its most important task – paying the debts and providing for the general welfare – Congress earned a score of 18 percent, passing only two of the 11 FY 2007 appropriations bills. It passed a continuing resolution to keep the government functioning, instead.

Some said the failure to pass those nine bills was the Republican Party’s revenge for the Democrats winning control of the House and Senate in November. Democratic leaders will have to pass the funding bills before beginning their legislative agenda.

Some farmers are disappointed Congress didn’t do more. Those who lost their crops to drought or hurricanes in 2005 and 2006 will get little, if any help from the federal government. The House leadership refused to allow disaster aid to be included in at least two measures Congress did pass.

House leaders also blocked a supplemental direct payment aimed at helping offset the high fuel and fertilizer costs from last year’s hurricanes. Opponents said it would have gone to producers who “didn’t deserve it.” Diesel and nitrogen fertilizer must have been much cheaper in some areas than others.

Congress could have taken other steps to address higher fuel prices, but, other than debate a $100 per family rebate on high gasoline prices, members never got around to resolving the issue. At press time, House leaders withdrew S-3711, a Senate bill that would open 8.3 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for natural gas and oil production.

Congress also failed to pass legislation that would have modernized the lock-and-dam system on the interior waterways – much to the annoyance of the National Corn Growers Association. Passage of the Water Resources Development Act was delayed again when House and Senate conferees could not work out a compromise agreement.

All of this comes as Congress supposedly is preparing to pass a new farm bill before the funding for the 2002 Act runs out next Sept. 30. If the next Congress doesn’t act any more aggressive than the last, it may be 2010 before farmers see a new law.

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