Why is Congress so helpless and so hopeless? That’s the question Robert Kaiser investigates in his new book, “Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn’t.” The longtime Washington Post correspondent tells the story of the financial reform bill, known as the Dodd-Frank Act, and its journey through Congress, and what the passage — or failure to pass — a bill says about our larger democracy today.

Interview Highlights

Robert Kaiser, associate editor and senior correspondent for The Washington Post, and author of "Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't"

  • Christina Clem

    So what can we, as citizens, do to change this?

    • thucy

      Possibly by rejecting the false notion that the good-old-boy, back-slapping scene of 1950’s Georgetown wasn’t, as Kaiser tried to suggest, something to aspire to.
      Separately, Dodd himself was, as a Senator, a shill for Wall Street, and the “reform” bill bearing his name lacks teeth. And what is the relationship between Frank and Wall Street? Hmmm…

      • Mark Talmont

        Web search “Bobby Baker”. He carried brief cases full of cash around the Capitol for LBJ and bought votes back in the “good old days”. He was ultimately criminally charged, kept his mouth shut, or else that would have been the Dems Watergate. Robert Caro’s latest edition acknowledges that LBJ was on the verge of impeachment and prison the day JFK caught a bullet.

  • Sarah

    Let’s be clear that ALEC is successful because it gets massive amounts of corporate dollars. Progressives do need to be better organized, but the right is not dependent on grassroots activism because they have corporate activism.

    • thucy

      And on the Democratic side, as the NYT’s Jim Rutenberg points out, there are the “kids in the cave”, now no less entwined with big corporations:

    • Mark Talmont

      And the public employee unions (that run this pathetic excuse for a state government) are powerless? You need to go look at the Manhattan Institute site and read their piece on PERS “The Pension Fund that Ate California”. Not much coverage of the matter out this way, besides a few columns by Dan Walters at the Sac Bee. Did you see what they just tried to do with denying access to public records? They already did this with the multi-billion dollar slush fund from the cap-and-tax.

  • Chemist150

    Comparing Romneycare to Obamacare does not work.

    Just like the US can grow by pulling in resource and capital from other countries, States can do the same between states.

    Thus comparing Obamacare to Romneycare is not comparable. Being OK with Romneycare does not mean you’re OK with Obamacare. I’m for State rights. To draw out the example further. Within the time of Romneycare, full time employment dropped and part time employment rose. i.e. people were losing jobs. Now with the states, one can move to another state to find full time employment. It won’t be so easy to move out of the country.

    Now extrapolate with the border issue being a real border.

  • Chris OConnell

    Good show.;

  • timholton

    Mr Kaiser’s complaint that legislators are spending too much time in their districts and not enough in Washington seems an odd response to Washington’s insularity and abstraction from the real problems of local communities—although the fact that he’s spent his whole life in DC helps explain his perspective; he shares the insularity and abstraction. Aren’t we simply up against the limits of practical scale in good, effective government and the limits of our legislators’ capacity to deal with increasingly complex issues?

    John Adams struggled with the wisdom of the new republic’s imperial ambitions, pointing out that, “The lawgivers of antiquity …legislated for single cities,” and had his doubts that anyone could “legislate for 20 or 30 states, each of which is greater than Greece or Rome at those times.” The U.S. is an empire more than it is a unified and reasonably governable nation.

    It seems natural to me that the Federal government’s legitimacy is crumbling. Complaints about the “culture” of those trying to function an untenable system strike me as rear-guard efforts.

  • Bob George

    This morning, Mr. Kaiser traced the development (or devolution, as Newt might say) of the current condition of the Republican Party back to the 1964 Goldwater candidacy. He didn’t include Watergate in his list of key events over the ensuing years. Maybe he discusses it in his book. I lived in Washington, D.C., at the time of the break-in and was enraptured by the unfolding story all the way through the trails and sentencing. In the aftermath, I detected a level of pure meanness creep into the party psyche, and it’s still there. Watching the man the party had nominated for president three times climb the steps of a helicopter and fly off the White House lawn well before the end of his legal term just had to leave scars.

    • thucy

      That must have been an amazing time to be in DC. Or, I guess, anywhere in the States, amid Watergate, the Vietnam War soon drawing to its helicoptery “conclusion”, and women entering the workforce in large numbers. Not to mention “The Godfather” films making villains of cops and senators, and anti-heroes out of the Corleones.

  • Mark Talmont

    I love this “Republicans are extreme” narrative. The bedrock of the Democrats is erasure of the borders to the country, the destruction of our sovereignty and handing over our destiny to transnationalists who facilitate mass murder all over the world, the evisceration of property rights for everybody except said transnationalists, incessant dumbing down of our educational standards, the cultivation of a vast dependency class….and the Republicans are extreme? Get a clue, better yet take a trip to Mexico and get a taste of what one-party rule is going to deliver here. (or a jaunt to Stockton or Fresno as a safer facsimile.)

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