WASHINGTON, DC–With their second session well underway, members of the 106th U.S. Congress have fallen into a deep emotional malaise, openly questioning their effectiveness and ultimate usefulness to the nation.
"I dunno," U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-TX) said. "What's the point? Why make all these new laws, when the ones we've already passed haven't made a bit of difference?"
"I first ran for Congress to shake things up, to end the era of big government," Rep. Floyd Spence (R-SC) said. "So what did I do when I got elected? I immediately started joining all these subcommittees and forming alliances with senior House members in an effort to fit in. Pretty revolutionary, huh? I'm just like the rest of them."
Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) said he became overcome with feelings of worthlessness during last week's deliberation of H.R. 2372, a measure to simplify and expedite access to the federal courts for injured parties whose rights and privileges, secured by the Constitution, have been deprived by final actions of federal agencies, or other government officials or entities acting under color of state law.
"We're out there on the floor, debating the pros and cons of the thing, but I just wasn't into it at all," Dreier said. "Then it hits me: What does it matter if the stupid bill goes through or not? It's not like it's gonna change anything. H.R. 2372 won't make any more difference than H.R. 3843, which reauthorizes programs to assist small-business concerns, or H.R. 1000 to amend title 49, United States Code, to reauthorize programs of the Federal Aviation Administration and for other purposes."
Added Dreier: "Gee, those bills were really important. I'm sooo glad we passed those."
The growing despondency has not gone unnoticed. President Clinton noted that the few bills that have crossed his desk in the past month have typically been covered with doodles. On April 6, a New York Times editorial accusing House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) of sabotaging Medicare reform was met with the response, "Whatever." And on Friday, C-SPAN viewers were struck by the sight of all 435 House members listlessly staring out the window rather than engaging in debate.
The mood in the Senate is even worse. On NBC's Meet The Press last week, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) told host Tim Russert: "All we ever do is vote on stuff that the House already passed. Why send it over to us if the larger body already passed it? Clinton'll probably just veto it anyway. No wonder McCain wanted out."
Seeking to boost congressional spirits, Clinton offered kind words for the legislative body in his weekly radio address.
"I'd just like to praise the terrific job our nation's congressmen have done over the past few months," Clinton said Sunday. "It can be really hard to do the same job, day in and day out, especially when you feel like no one is noticing. But let me assure both the House and the Senate that every piece of legislation you produce is appreciated and important, and bears your unique stamp. You have every right to be proud of the wonderful work that you and you alone can do."
Clinton said he has not ruled out taking the legislators on a "congressional cheer-up" trip to Busch Gardens in nearby Williamsburg.