Culture teaches homage for the deceased, allows for a proper burial and a stirring eulogy. The lingering question that remains: How can we create an appropriate funeral for an entity that never really came to life?


As the 113th Congress limps to the end of its two-year term (including the truly lame-duck session) and we prepare the eulogy, one realizes that Congress never passed any trade legislation at all! It ran the path of least resistance, working issues that were easy to move, or fundamental to ongoing government operations. While President Obama has pushed for trade deals that improve workers' rights and environmental standards, clearly America has fallen behind as the master of international trade agreements, simply by not issuing new ones and failing to renew old ones like the Generalized System of Preferences. Just last week, in a stunning and quite public announcement about leadership in the area of free trade, President Xi Jinping of China indicated that China can no longer just be a spectator and follower, but a participant and leader. China is ringing its bell, and making it clear that it will leap forward on trade as America is seemingly falling behind.

So much has been written about this 113th Congress, calling it the worst in American history, and the public has now branded it with a dramatic 13 percent approval rating (the Real Clear Politics current average). To cap off the sad reputation, our respected voice of this generation, Jon Stewart, commented as follows: "I'm not saying that Congress is bad at its job. Iā€™m just saying that this Congress is equivalent to a skunk with its head in a jar of Skippy peanut butter."

Why do Americans feel so disappointed?

1.) Lack of harmony: We expect our representatives to have constructive debate. Clearly, conflict resolution has not been on the agenda for this Congress. The dialogue among members has been grandstanded and constantly peppered with fear of fiscal cliffs, government shutdowns, and generally viewed as destructive, causing Americans to fear their Congress rather than respect it.

2.) Lack of productivity: President Truman's legislature passed 908 bills and he coined them a "do-nothing" Congress. This 113th Congress is now at 186 bills to date (which is 80 percent below "do-nothing") and, while some conservatives hail this inaction as a restraint on government spending, Americans are realistic to understand that other fish are being caught in the same net, thus forcing our country to regress in the eyes of the domestic and international communities.

3.) Paid too much: Consumer rights activist Ralph Nader, in a Sept. 22, 2014 letter to Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner won't say whether he'd back Biden over Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Amash's critics miss the fact that partisanship is the enemy of compromise MORE (R-Ohio), was quick to point out that from August to mid-November of this year (over a period of 103 days), Congress was in session for just eight days, and was actually paid at the effective rate of $614 per hour. Nader said that while Americans are "working more and more, for less and less," your House of Representatives seems "to have no problem working less and less, for more and more."

Comedian Jay Leno caught the moment by stating: "President Obama wants Congress to increase the minimum wage. Believe me, when it comes to doing the minimum for their wage, Congress knows what it's talking about."

4.) The facts: Of the 186 bills that have been enacted by this Congress, not one has to do with the realm of international trade, or with issues that many judge to be critically important to our business community and to the economic engine of this country. Surely, each and every one of the 186 bills must have been important to the health and well-being of our nation.

However, as we run down the list of legislative items signed into law under this Congress and this president, the first review indicates that 12 percent of the (few precious) enacted bills were used to name various post offices around the country and, save a very few more important laws, the list of accomplishments skids downhill from there.

Take, for example, a bill that passed as H.R. 3110, the Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act, which is now a law in the United States of America. Characterized as an important bill that would foster the tradition of (about 1,000) people in Alaska, please hold this as display No. 1 and compare it to other potential legislation that could have actually helped the 316 million remaining people in our country. You know, the ones who are watching our roads and infrastructure crumble, our airports denigrate to Third World status and our schools be deprived of necessary educational materials. Yet, we must congratulate Congress on their foresight to issue the Huna Tlingit law, as we have now authorized the secretary of the Interior to allow members of the Hoonah Indian Association to collect the eggs of glaucous-winged gulls. Alaska Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungGOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz Congress: Pass legislation that invests in America's water future MORE (R) was quoted as saying: "Passage of this legislation is an important step for upholding the traditional way of life for Alaska's first people."

No offense to Young (who certainly cares deeply about his district), but what about the rest of us? Situations like the Huna Tlingit gull egg bill and naming post offices only demonstrates that Congress came to a point in the woods and took the road less traveled.

Again, Jay Leno: "A top geneticist at Stanford says human intelligence is declining. You know what that means? We are seeing Congress at its smartest and most effective (point) right now."

How sad ā€” we harvest gull eggs and yet trade festers. Just look at this short list of extremely vital trade issues that have been in need of renewal for up to seven years, with no resolution in sight:

  • Expired since 2007: Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)
  • Expired since 2012: Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB)
  • Expired since 2013: Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)
  • Expiring 2014: Nicaragua Tariff Preference Level (NicTPL)
  • Due to expire in 2015: African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA)

As we close the book on the 113th Congress, do let us leave it with a proper eulogy. Let's take these words generally attributed to Winston Churchill, who once commented about the "many" being indebted to the "few": "Americans will always do the right thing ā€” after they've tried everything else."

Farewell, 113th; you will not be missed.

Helfenbein is chairman of the board of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. He is a strong advocate for a robust U.S. trade agenda and lectures frequently on the subjects of supply chain and international trade. Follow him on Twitter @rhelfen.