Sunday, March 9, 2014
WASHINGTON — The congressional year that ended with a sputter on Friday will likely be remembered – if it is remembered – for the slew of ominous two-word phrases that it produced.
Sen. Angus King
2013 file photo
And now that it’s all done, historians and commentators have already added another two-headed descriptor to the first session of the 113th Congress: least productive.
With only about 60 bills signed into law, this was the least-productive first session in more than a generation. But rather than judge this Congress on the number of bills passed (because some people will argue that the fewer new laws passed by politicians, the better), I asked members of Maine’s delegation to gauge the session on whether it accomplished things they viewed as positive for the country.
The question may have changed, but the answers really didn’t.
“Quite frankly, there have been very few positive pieces of legislation that have gone through,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who represents the 2nd District.
“I think it’s clearly been established that this is the most do-nothing of the do-nothing Congresses,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District. The fact that lawmakers in both parties tout the passage of a two-year budget – which Pingree voted against – “just shows we can barely function,” she added.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, a former two-term governor wrapping up his first year in Washington, wasn’t feeling much love on Friday as the Senate finished up its work for the year.
“By and large, it’s been pretty frustrating,” King said. “The critical reality today is we have a divided government: a Democratic Senate, a Republican House and a Democratic White House. And that means nothing gets done without bipartisanship.”
All of that said, Maine’s delegation members each gave several positive developments that emerged from the first year of the 113th Congress.
For King, the 16-day government shutdown in October was the clear low point but ironically also yielded one of the brighter spots of the session: the bipartisan group of senators (led by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine) who worked out a proposal to break the deadlock. While the final version looked different, the proposal put together by the group got negotiations rolling and served as a framework for the deal.
King also said the importance of the first budget since 2009 shouldn’t be understated because it provides some financial certainty and likely avoids another shutdown in mid-January.
Collins’ office did not make her available for an interview on Friday but said the Republican listed the bipartisan group – dubbed the Common Sense Caucus – and the budget deal as positive developments. The group plans to continue to meet next year as well.
Pingree said she was pleased to see progress on addressing the issue of sexual assaults in the military. A defense spending authorization bill that passed Congress this month did not contain as many reforms as Pingree and many others involved in the issue wanted. But she said the level of awareness about the issue within Congress, at the White House and, most important, at the Pentagon is much higher.
“That has been a real turn-around,” she said. Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority owner of Maine Today Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel.
Michaud, who is running for governor next year, said progress was made on addressing some of the serious issues facing veterans, including exerting pressure on the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the disability claims backlog. Some important measures are still pending, however.
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