The Five Most Idiotic Things Congress Did This Week

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As life for the average American has gotten harder and harder, elected officials in Washington have done little to help.

Congress wastes much of its time on political posturing and bickering. And in those rare instances when our representatives actually do something, they usually make a mess if it.

It's no wonder the job approval polls for Congress have fallen into single digits.

Here at Money Morning we've pointed out many of Washington's worst offenses over the years, but the truth is that the nonsense in our nation's capital never really stops - and not all of it makes the evening news.

To erase any doubt, here are five ridiculous things that happened in Washington just this week:

Any Excuse for a Fight: For the past week, Congress has been arguing about extending into 2012 the payroll tax cuts, which put about $1,000 into the pocket of the average worker in this year.

Most Republicans and Democrats alike agree it's a good idea. But instead of simply approving it, both sides are using it as a political pawn. House Republicans have tossed approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline into their version of the bill, which many Democrats oppose for environmental reasons. And Senate Democrats, with urging from U.S. President Barack Obama, have added a surtax on millionaires to pay for the payroll tax cut, which Republicans oppose.

As if to prove just how incredibly dysfunctional Congress can be, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, on Wednesday threw a routine government spending approval package into the mix to try to force Republicans to negotiate on the payroll tax issue. Failure to approve that bill would force a government shutdown - the same crass tactic Republicans used over the summer during the debt-ceiling crisis.

Drop it in the Memory Hole: On Monday Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FL, insisted during an appearance on Fox News that the nation's unemployment rate had not risen since President Obama has been in the White House.

The U.S. unemployment rate was 7.8% in January of 2009, when President Obama took office, and 8.2% in February 2009, his first full month in office. Unemployment peaked at 10.1% in October 2009, and hovered above 9% for most of 2010 and 2011. It fell to 8.6% last month.

Wasserman Schultz is no backbencher, either - she's also chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Who Cares if You Have to Pay More for Gas? Most Americans favor getting tough with Iran, but not many want to pay more to gas up their cars - not that House lawmakers are worried about that. The Iran Threat Reductions Act, which the House passed on Wednesday, is intended to strengthen sanctions against Iran, but one nasty side effect could be a disruption of the oil markets. Iran is the world's fourth-largest producer of oil.

"This may cause short term difficulties for the world's oil market, and it may rankle some of our allies, but it is necessary, because stopping Iran's nuclear program is of paramount strategic importance, and we're running out of time," said Rep. Howard Berman, D-CA.

Not only that, but the measure also restricts diplomatic contacts with Iran, which would seem to defy logic.

"Proponents of the Iran Threat Reduction Act claim that it's a last-ditch effort to prevent military confrontation with Iran," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH. "Yet, this bill takes away the most effective tool to prevent war, diplomacy."

The legislation passed 410-11.

Oops... We Passed The Wrong Bill: You'd think an institution as important as Congress would have safeguards in place to prevent the accidental passage of the wrong version of a bill. But you would be wrong.

In a rare bipartisan agreement, both the House and Senate passed a bill this week that addressed pipeline safety issues. However, it was an earlier version of the bill, not the final version.

Unlike most of the mistakes Congress makes, this blunder was fixed within days by votes in both chambers to approve the correct version.

Colorful Language: One of the things our lawmakers do best is attack the other side. This week, there were several gems.

Here's Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, describing a Republican proposal Wednesday to delay some Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) boiler regulations:

"Instead of gifts, the Republican scrooges want lumps of coal in the stockings and coal pollution in our lungs," said Lautenberg.

But Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, went further in her comments Tuesday on the same EPA proposal:

"They have attached a poison pill - literally, colleagues - because it will kill 8,100 more people more than would have otherwise been killed from pollution," Boxer said.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, skewered Sen. Harry Reid for the lack of achievements in the current legislative session.

"We have fiddled all year long," McConnellsaid."All year long. One point-scoring bill after another, designed to fail, designed to divide us, designed to get no result. Here we are a few days before Christmas and the silliness continues."

Indeed.

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