Where is Congress?


So often these days, the news moves so fast it’s hard, if not impossible, to keep up, even for diligent readers of the papers or followers of cable news shows: political bickering as a manifestation of extreme polarization, President Trump, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Russian election hacking and assassination attempts, immigration, family separations, increasing tariff wars between the U.S. and several countries — including allies, catastrophic climate-change-induced storms, devastating gas line explosions, and on and on.

As for the first of these, if you followed the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings reviewing the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, you would have seen Republicans and Democrats simply talking past one another. Republicans claimed that the 400,000 pages of documentation were sufficient to judge whether the nominee was qualified to serve on our highest court.

The Democrats demanded to see more than the 10 percent of the documents that were released concerning his three-year service in the White House under President George W. Bush. They asked to see about another 100,000, some of which, they claimed, would reveal whether he was involved in the harsh interrogation, i.e., torture, program of Guantanamo detainees suspected of terrorism.

The Democrats argue that if the missing documents demonstrate his involvement in the program, it would prove he had not been truthful in 2006 when he testified before the same committee after President Bush nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

All this boils down to one major question: What has Congress actually achieved over the past 19 months? The answer is that except for the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Congress has accomplished pretty much whatever President Trump wants.

Congress’s only piece of major legislation was last year’s Tax Reform and Jobs Act, which, as is now as plain as day, significantly reduced taxes on the most wealthy Americans and corporations, especially their shareholders.

The law had nothing to do with the decrease in the unemployment rate, and it was unrelated to the strengthening economy: From a high of 10 percent unemployment in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession to 3.9 percent today, we can see that the economy under President Obama experienced 75 straight months of improvement, which continued uninterrupted under President Trump.

As any reputable economist will tell you, presidents have little to nothing to do with the economy. But will it last? No, not unless, the one institution that can actually do something, namely Congress, acts.

Under the Tax Reform Act, the current national debt of $21 trillion is expected to rise another $1.5 trillion. This past February, Congress passed, and President Trump signed, a bill increasing spending by $300 billion, most of which was for defense and national security.

Already the deficit for the current fiscal year stands at around $875 billion, and the projections are that beginning in 2020, and for years afterward, the annual deficit will be around $1 trillion. So where is the money to come from to make up this debt? Certainly not from the wealthiest individuals and families, nor corporate America.

It will come from you and me. Republicans used to be the party of fiscal responsibility, and loved to lambaste the Democrats as “tax and spend” politicians. Now, Congress must act by Sept. 30 to avoid another government shutdown: Chances are the result will be significant cuts to the so-called entitlement programs, especially Social Security and Medicare, neither of which would affect the wealthiest Americans.

Over the past 19 months, Congress has become an appendage of the presidency. This is not what the framers of the Constitution envisioned. For James Madison, writing in Federalist 51 in explaining the role of Congress, “in republican government the legislative [branch] must necessarily predominate.”

But President Trump has successfully cowed the Republican leadership into submission. The Senate, for example, has easily confirmed one Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, and will likely approve Judge Kavanaugh. It has set a record number of lower-court judicial approvals: 41 federal district and 26 circuit court judgeships.

The Republican-controlled Congress has converted from deficit hawks to big spenders, creating one of the greatest peacetime explosions in the national debt.

So watch as your tax bill remains the same or increases, and as the Social Security and Medicare safety net implodes. The only way to salvage this grim situation is for a new, fiscally responsible Congress to take control in January, a Congress willing to challenge the president and stake out its own avenues of legislative initiative.

Jack Fruchtman, a seasonal Aquinnah resident, teaches constitutional law and politics at Maryland’s Towson University.



  1. Mr Brennan. Why does this guy get to post these long essays with many missing facts and lots of distortions just because he is a college professor at some unknown school? How about letting me write a letter with my opinions. I can give you a pretty interesting bio.

    • wow, Andrew– what a great idea for you to get to express your opinion on this forum– I feel so bad that you have been censored here for so long. Perhaps you could set Mr Fruchtman’s “distortions” straight with some “alternative” distortions. The editor here does allow for distortions and some untruths, as you well know. It is not the job of the editor to determine what is truth or fiction. It is his job to allow for a free expression of opinion, which is exactly what he is doing. By the way, Mr. Fruchtman is a professor at Towson university– perhaps unknown to you, but not “unknown”.

      • Dear dondondon12. I have not been censored. simply absent. The Editor Mr Brennan doesnt allow distortions and does some fact checking and he does try to segregate fact from fiction. So you are incorrect again. My opinions and assertions are always correct, are never alternative facts and I simply believe Fruchtman is biased.

        • Just for the record, Andrew, you say “how about letting me write a letter with my opinions”? . Does that not imply that you have somehow been restricted ?
          Mr Brennan is quite liberal as to what he allows here, as long as it’s not name calling, etc. Your assertion that you are always correct is a joke, I assume.

  2. So Mr. Fruchtman asks where is the money going to come from to make up the debt? He then goes on to say, not from the wealthiest individuals, families and corporations – but that is exactly where it will come from, in the form of government debt instruments. I know this, and I’ll give you dollars to donuts Mr. Fruchtman does too. If he were not such a disingenuous mouthpiece for the globalist left he would use his intellect and bully platform here to educate the people about how the Federal Reserve operates and exactly how the national debt is created. Someday the working people are going to figure it out en masse, and some serious scurrying will ensue.

      • The election of Donald Trump was a rumbling in that direction but there is still a long way to go. The people know they’ve been screwed economically for the last 4 or 5 decades but they don’t know exactly how. The anger is there, but not the understanding. What infuriates the globalists so much is that Trump is upsetting the delicate financial balance they have worked so hard to maintain, knowing that only by keeping all the world’s currencies degrading uniformly can they maintain and improve their position.

        • Trump is trying to dismantle the entire post war economic and strategic order.
          Upsetting the status quo is one thing, but the “man” is completely ignorant of global economic realities, and has the potential to send the world into economic chaos.

          • Exactly, and it needs dismantling. The world is already in chaos; Trump aims to see that the USA stops getting the dirty end of the stick.

        • hanley– a slightly flawed world wide economic system is in need of tweeking– it is not in need of sledge hammer destruction. If you think we need to take the hammer to it, then rebuild it over the course of 20 years while a billion people die, then I disagree with you. The unites states comprises about 6 % of the world’s population– we do not have the right to kill billions of people so we can eat our caviar and fly in our private jets.

    • hanley– just to throw a little humor in here–I don’t eat doughnuts, and “doughnuts to dollars” has a nice alliterative roll to it– but my guess is you can’t get a decent doughnut for under a dollar these days.

  3. the republicans in congress don’t want anyone to see the 100,000 documents concerning the appointment of a supreme court justice because SUQIRRELL– Hillary e mails— now, where was I ? Oh, never mind–

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