Congress isn't exactly the most popular government institution around, and fueling the flames of discontent is its record slow pace in passing legislation. Bills can take a notoriously long time to become law, and Americans are understandably frustrated by arcane procedural moves that delay the passage of bills which deal with important contemporary issues.
With attention currently focused entirely on budgetary issues, Congress is setting aside a variety of other important legislative issues. While the budget certainly matters, the fight over funding the federal government is grinding everything else to a halt because of the un-compromising stance of religious right politicians in the House of Representatives. Without a normal compromise budget in place, legislation must be passed every few months to continue funding the government, a process which is redirecting Congressional energies almost exclusively to finances. The problem with this way of funding the government is that the issues detailed below are being pushed aside while Congress tries to come to a compromise over the budget.
1) Not getting the attention it needs is the effort to restore funding to the scientific and medical research institutions which faced harsh cutbacks from the sequester. The recent spending cuts have impacted federal agencies and government workers, as well as independent researchers, in many different scientific fields and in locations across the nation. The National Institutes of Health, which is the "world's largest supporter of biomedical research," saw sequestration cut their budget for this year by close to $1.6 billion dollars, while the National Science Foundation, which funds about a fifth of all federally funded basic research at American colleges and universities, anticipated it would award about 1,000 fewer research grants this year because of sequestration. While some in Congress have called for these cuts to be repealed, nothing much has been accomplished. The result of this inaction is that nearly one-fifth of scientists are considering going overseas to continue their research because of the poor funding climate in America.
2) Another matter not receiving the attention it deserves is immigration reform. When the 2012 presidential elections came to a close, everyone assumed that immigration reform would be passed, if for no other reason than the enormous importance Hispanic voters now have. While an immigration bill has passed the Senate, the House has routinely refused to do anything on the issue. Once again, this issue has been pushed aside and the consequences of inaction is that millions of immigrants continue to worry about their status in this country while millions more potential immigrants begin their journey through our painfully inflexible system.
3) A bill that was ignored in recent days is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This bill, which was introduced earlier this year in the House and the Senate, would prohibit discrimination in the workforce on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Unfortunately, due to an oversight in federal anti-discrimination law, 29 states currently permit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and 34 states permit discrimination based on gender identity, which is why this bill needs to be passed immediately. While the Senate has passed this bill out of committee, neither chamber of Congress has acted with urgency on the issue, leaving millions of LGBTQ Americans to face workplace discrimination simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
4) There is also a lack of progress on women's equality, as resolutions introduced in both the House and Senate to help ensure ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment are effectively dying in Congress due to a lack of interest from congressional leadership. The ERA ensures that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex," which is critical since the Constitution neglects to make such an affirmation. As we've seen unnecessary restrictions on contraceptive coverage and setbacks in workplace equality, such an affirmation is necessary to ensure that women don't lose the rights we have fought for over the past century.
5) Remember the conversation regarding the regulation of guns after the events in Newtown, Connecticut? It's hard to forget the carnage of mass shootings, especially after to the horrific events at the Navy Yard. But with congressional energies redirected to the budget, little has been accomplished. While there were bi-partisan attempts to make progress on this issue, extremists in both the House and the Senate blocked these efforts and Congress has since turned its attention elsewhere. The result of this inaction is that we aren't doing all we can to prevent the next mass shooting.
Congress has a great deal on its hands at the moment, but that is no excuse for dropping the ball on the other important issues that deserve its attention, especially since the current government funding crisis could have been avoided. It's time for Congress to refocus on the issues that matter and start working to prevent these unnecessary distractions from taking up so much time and energy. Maybe when the American people start feeling that their concerns are being addressed Congress will begin to earn back their respect.