The news media is inherently biased towards action and conflict. Action and conflict sell papers and retain eyeballs, and typically precedes accuracy in reporting. This is the reason that political reporting is so focused on horse races. Policies and facts are merely important, not interesting. Congress, as an institution is fundamentally a place where action and conflict are diluted and restrained. It runs on deliberation and incrementalism.
Thus, in the interest of selling papers and ads on television, media coverage of our government will always have an inherent bias towards the Executive branch, due to the fact that that branch has far more freedom of action and capability for conflict than the legislative branch.
The "slow, obstructionist Congress" narrative operates regardless of the reality of circumstances. For example, did you know that our Democratic Congress is on pace to call over 1000 roll call votes this year? The House of Representatives has already broken the 1978 record for votes (942).
Democrats say they're living up to promises made during the 2006 campaign, when they said they would worker harder, remain in session more days and hold more votes on American priorities.By the standards set during the Republican Congress of the Bush Administration, the present Congress has been remarkably active in doing the people's business. But this fact lies buried in a corner blog of a political website.
“Not only did we finish the work the previous Congress left undone, we advanced our new direction agenda, with nearly 70 percent of our key measures receiving significant bipartisan support," said Kristie Greco, spokesman for House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.). - Politico.com
Furthermore, Congress has been doing more because that is what Americans say they want.
(Pew Survey, "Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2007")
The voters support more programs and help for people who cannot help themselves. And that is what the Democratic Congress has been doing.
Recent successes include passage of the Student Loan Bill, implementing all the 9/11 Commission Recommendations, returning the proper role of the Senate to the appointment of U.S. Attorneys, raising the minimum wage, funding quality treatment of our wounded soldiers and funding water projects that have gone unfunded throughout the Bush administration. - Leesburg Tomorrow, September 13, 2007Instead of reports about the bills which have passed, become law, and are on their way to making the lives of Americans a little bit easier, the narrative is focused on those two or three areas which retain the drama of action and conflict: Iraq and now SCHIP.
It is undeniable that Congress should be acting to mitigate the evils to which our excursion into Iraq trend. On this, the most critical issue before our country, Congress has been too timid. (We can only be grateful that Senator Jim Webb is speaking for the Virginians serving abroad with force and authority.)
But to say Congress should be acting is not the same as saying the Democratic Leadership has done nothing. On the contrary, the Democratic Leadership in Congress has led on the issues critical to Iraq. In fact, a majority in Congress has voted, many times, to reduce our role in Iraq, scale back the mission, or at a minimum, allow our soldiers as much time at home as they spend abroad. In each case, the Republicans blocked progress. In fact, the Republicans have blocked progress more frequently than any Congressional minority in history. (Including one Senator with more than 100 holds.) The Democratic Leadership has been able to lead on important issues and pass important bills, in spite of the monolithic obstruction of the Republican minority.
If there is a narrative which is in concert with the facts it is that of overcoming remarkable opposition and adversity to do the business of the American people.
But that narrative does not sell advertising.
And so, even as the news is dominated for the next day by the failure to override President Bush's SCHIP veto, please take notice of how many times the override is explained in terms of the missing Republican votes in the House of Representatives. Please listen closely to hear if the story explains that an overwhelming majority in Congress voted in favor of this bill, multiple times, but a handful of obstructionist Republicans stood in the way of childrens' health insurance. And as you do that, please listen for any indication that the media makes note of the fact that this bill could have easily become law, insuring the children, if only President Bush had been willing to compromise.
Rather, the coverage will read like this:
House Democrats were unable Thursday to override President Bush's veto of their pre-election year effort to expand a popular government health insurance program to cover 10 million children.Nevermind that there was a strong bipartisan majority and the Democrats were able to muster unity in their caucus to override the veto. Nevermind that it was actually the failure of the Republicans to muster enough votes for a veto. This is a failure of "House Democrats." Nevermind that Congress has voted dozens of times, through committees and hearings and procedural motions, to move this program forward, to fund it, and to make it the law of the land. This is a failure of "House Democrats." Because the 11% narrative must be maintained.
The bill had bipartisan support but the 273-156 roll call was 13 votes short of the two-thirds that majority supporters needed to enact the bill into law over Bush's objections. The bill had passed the Senate with a veto-proof margin. - The Associated Press, via NPR
But at the end of the day, the override failed because the system worked the way it is supposed to work. The rights of the minority were retained, the passions of the moment were diluted and Congress forced into more deliberation. And that is the narrative which is missing from our national media discourse.
Glenn Smith gets the last word.
Of course, it would be as damaging to idealize the legislative branch as it is to hero-worship a president. Congress is not a team, it is a meeting place for competing teams, and so its actions are, by design, contentious and argumentative. In this context, it is supposed to produce "good enough" laws and inhibit tyrannies of either majorities or minorities. It should be responsive enough that all of us can consent to its decisions even as we might work passionately to overturn them. - The Rockridge Institute