An estimated 23 million Americans are unemployed, under-employed or out of the workforce entirely, yet the two congressional panels that focus on job-creating small businesses hardly ever meet, according to a new report.
"Despite the importance of small business to our nation's economy and their recent struggles, the small business committees of both chambers tied for first place as the committee approving the least amount of legislation in 2012," said Sen. Tom Coburn in the opening of the 2012 edition of his annual "Wastebook" chronicle of wasteful federal spending.
|‘The Senate Budget Committee has failed to produce a budget - which it is required to do by law - in over 1,200 days. - Sen. Tom Coburn’|
"The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee held only four hearings and passed out just three measures, one of which authorized expenditures for the committee itself," said Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican.
"Likewise, the House Small Business Committee reported out just three bills and held 31 hearings, which is significantly more than its counterpart in the Senate, but fewer than most of the other committees in the House," he said.
The paucity of productivity by the small business committees is emblematic of the poor performance overall of the 112th Congress, according to Coburn, and it cannot be explained simply by pointing to the fact Democrats control the Senate and Republicans hold sway in the House of Representatives.
The Senate under Majority Leader Harry Reid "has cast fewer votes in 2012 thus far than any year in decades," Coburn said. "More than 20 of the 100 senators -- on both sides of the aisle -- have not had a single amendment considered on the Senate floor in 2012."
The amendment process has in years past been a key reason why the Senate was known as the "world's greatest deliberative body," since, unlike the House of Representatives, any senator could offer any amendment on any bill.
But Reid has blocked all but a favored few amendments, according to Coburn, who noted that Reid even boasted about it, saying "I will say this so it will save a lot of trouble for anybody... amendment days are over."
Coburn pointed to the Senate's two most important economic policy committees - the budget and finance panels - as key reasons Congress has done so little to address the country's problems in recent years.
"Since the last budget was passed on April 29, 2009, Washington has spent $11.2 trillion and added more than $4.8 trillion to the national debt," Coburn said. "Yet, the Senate Budget Committee has failed to produce a budget - which it is required to do by law - in over 1,200 days."
The budget committee has also failed to meet regularly, convening for only a dozen hearings thus far in 2012, "fewer than all but other congressional committees," Coburn said.
Similarly, the finance committee, which has oversight responsibility for about three-quarters of the federal budget, has passed virtually no legislation and met only occasionally.
"Despite its broad jurisdiction, the finance committee reported out and discharged only 11 legislative measures," Coburn said. "These included a non-binding resolution supporting the goals and ideals of 'National Save for Retirement Week' and a resolution authorizing the committee's own expenditures."
Coburn said the lack of productivity in Congress is why it has received in recent polls its lowest-ever levels of public approval.
Coburn served three terms of the House of Representatives during the 1990s but left voluntarily because he had term-limited himself when he first ran for Congress.
In the Senate, Coburn has been a constant thorn to the leadership of both parties in the White House and on Capitol Hill as a result of his persistent and no-political nonsense criticism of federal spending. He was elected to his second six-year Senate term in 2010.
You can read the new Coburn report in full here.
UPDATE: House Committee on Small Business chairman responds
Rep. Sam Graves, R-MO, is chairman of the House Committee on Small Business. He has issued the following statement in response to the Coburn comments above:
“With appreciation for Sen. Coburn’s efforts against waste, a commitment we share, his report is not factual on the efforts of the House Committee on Small Business.
“Despite narrow legislative jurisdiction, members of the committee introduced 19 bills and marked up 14 this Congress, 11 this year. More importantly, the committee effectively used its oversight jurisdiction to hold 80 hearings on all sorts of issues that affect small businesses, including nine field hearings.
In addition to hearings, we have exercised oversight affecting 20 federal agencies. The committee will continue to measure progress in the fight for small businesses more by the content of the hearings and results of oversight efforts, than faulty statistics cited in Dr. Coburn’s report.
“The committee takes seriously the obligation to usefully fight for small businesses, often on tax and regulatory issues that burden small businesses needlessly. We’re proud of that record. The committee effectively shines needed sunlight on issues affecting small businesses and gives small business owners a needed voice in a Federal government that often works against them.”
Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.