113th Congress Mired in Indecision, Disputes
Published: Friday, January 24, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 24, 2014 12:01
Amid a two-week government shutdown and continued budget controversy, the 113th Congress is largely considered the least effective congress in recent history, but in the midst of the Capitol’s dysfunction, Georgetown’s student Democrats and Republicans have pledged greater cooperation in spite of their federal counterparts.
According to congressional data, the 113th Congress, which finishes its term Jan. 3, 2015 has passed only 72 bills in 2013. President Barack Obama saw moderate success with legislation in the Democrat-controlled Senate on issues such as immigration and the federal budget, though these initiatives often failed to gain traction in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
Representatives of both major political parties on campus agreed that the root of their discord stemmed from a decreased incentive for lawmakers to compromise on key issues.
According to College Democrats Chair Chandini Jha (COL ’16) much of this can be attributed to gerrymandering, or the redrawing of Congressional districts around demographic groups to form solidly Democratic or Republican regions.
“There’s been so much manipulation of the rules of Congress to protect incumbents as much as possible,” Jha said. “If you know that you’re safe, either on the left or the right side, why would you go to the center?”
This has been compounded by the influence of political action committees and other sources of outside money following the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to outlaw campaign finance regulation.
“People aren’t just donating out of the altruism of their hearts,” Jha said. “There are definitely large corporate interests that use PACs to advance a certain corporate agenda.”
Georgetown professor of government Mark Rom concurred, expressing concern regarding the potential impact of unrestrained private campaign contributions on the future of American politics.
“The idea that rich people can spend unlimited amounts of money in ways without disclosure to influence the public eye, I think we ought to be nervous about that,” Rom said.
College Republicans Chair Patrick Musgrave (COL ’16) offered alternative reasoning for the congressional stagnation, citing instead the self-serving interests of politicians.
“The American governmental structure is based on winning. I think that people on both sides of the aisle do things to win that are less than tasteful. I don’t think that’s a huge issue,” Musgrave said. “You see more senators and representatives trying to score political points with sound bites,” Musgrave said.
Moreover, Musgrave blamed President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) in particular for their inability to promote and facilitate necessary legislative cooperation.
“The president has been very uncooperative with Congress,” Musgrave said, “and I think that Speaker Boehner really did not have as good [a] control of his caucus in Congress as I would have liked.”
Congress did successfully pass several important laws with particular relevance for the District, including a bill that ensured budgetary autonomy for D.C. through 2014, allowing the D.C. government a measure of political independence as well as insulating it from another potential federal shutdown or debt crisis.
Unlike their Congressional counterparts, Jha noted that she and Musgrave plan to promote cooperation across the aisle and alleviate partisan animosity during their respective terms.
“There are definitely ways to reach across the aisle, and Patrick [Musgrave] and I have talked about having a friendly relationship between our clubs,” Jha said. “That kind of message is something that Congress should hopefully espouse, but hasn’t been.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the the 113th congress has concluded, when in fact, it ends on January 3rd, 2015.