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Washington Week

October 1, 2010 - 6:00pm

Congress completed its legislative work for the fall a week early and adjourned midweek until after the November elections.Honestly, the legislatorshad little-to-nothing to show for their September fall session.Both the House and the Senate were able to pass a continuing resolution before the bewitching hour of Oct. 1. This passage means that the federal government will continue operations until the close of business on Dec. 3.

The spending levels were kept at current rates. Wow, what a huge accomplishment. I say this is such a huge accomplishment because this Congress has failed to do most of its other required work for basically the entire last year. Members spent most of the first part of 2010 passing the health-care reform bill, and then they pivoted to the financial reform bill and spent most of the late spring and summer working to pass that behemoth of a bill.

The other items that are typically required by Congress to enact fell by the wayside. I would guess that if Congress were considered a publicly traded company, it would have some explaining to do to its stockholders. Lets take inventory into its major accomplishments this past year:

  • Congress enacted zero appropriations bills that fund our federal government. This alone is historic; Congress has never failed to enact even one of these appropriations bills that make up our federal government spending.
  • The speaker voted once to adjourn the House of Representatives. This, too, is unusual because -- typically --adjournment resolutions are routine housekeeping matters, and for the most part the speaker of the House doesn't cast a vote during roll-call votes. As a matter of fact, this was quite entertaining to watch. You see, many House Democrats wanted the Democratic leadership to schedule a vote on extending all or part of the Bush tax cuts before they adjourned for the November elections. When the leadership failed to schedule that vote, Democratic House members thought the only retaliatory measure against their leadership was to vote against the resolution that permitted the House to adjourn for the November elections.

They saw this action as a way to force the leadership to schedule the vote on the Bush tax cuts. This retaliation ended up tying the roll-call vote on the adjournment resolution. Consequently, this forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), to enter the House of Representatives, pick up and sign a vote card, and then cast her vote to break the tie and allow the House to adjourn until Nov. 15.

  • Congress enacted zero budget resolutions. These budgets are passed annually and are used as blueprints or outlines for Congress to gauge its spending. This, too, is historic. Congress has never failed to pass a budget resolution through either the House or the Senate chambers. This Congress has, indeed, broken new ground.

I would venture to guess that if a major company failed to adopt an annual budget, didn't properly fund the various departments of the company, and then tried to go on vacation, the stockholders would file a lawsuit against the board members. The suit could claim the members failed to uphold their duty of care, a legal term that basically says the business directors owe a duty to exercise good business judgment and to use ordinary care and prudence when operating the business.

Stay tuned to see if a duty of care-type lawsuit materializes this November. Except that I can see it take shape in the form of a landslide incumbent defeat of members of Congress.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, four-times-elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority and Minority. She is the founder of

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