The Year in Washington: Key Moments from a Do-Nothing Congress

We look at the action and inaction this year's shamefully combative Congress.

The 112th Congress stormed in amid a devastating recession, an Obama hangover, and an increasingly strong movement called the Tea Party. Republicans reclaimed the House from the Democrats, who barely held onto a majority in the Senate. Since then, it's been a game of pulling congressional teeth in a year that will likely go down as one of the most divided and unproductive in history. What got done in 2011? The better question is what didn't get done. Congress passed fewer bills this year than they did in the last 10 non-election years, and President Obama signed fewer of them than any president in the last two decades. Here, some key moments from 2011's do-nothing Congress:

1. A government shutdown loomed. One of the most infuriating congressional episodes came in April, when a battle raged over how best to cut America's budget. Forget the fact that making deep cuts backfires during economic downturns, or that Planned Parenthood, which was held hostage by the GOP during the negotiations, has very little to do with our ballooning debt. Republicans and Democrats just couldn't agree. At the 11th hour, 800,000 government employees were spared a pay furlough when Congress passed a one-week budget as a bridge to permanent legislation. But the damage to the nation's confidence in its Congress had been done.

2. An imaginary debt-ceiling crisis emerged. A few months after the budget debacle, the United States' spending habits were again in the spotlight. In order to prevent default on money we'd already spent, Congress was charged with raising the debt ceiling, an arbitrary limit on our spending ability that could have been increased with a simple flick of a presidential pen. But instead of staying firm, President Obama made it clear he was willing to negotiate, and Republicans pounced. Months of bitter arguments ensued as other legislation was ignored. Eventually, Congress agreed to cut $1 trillion worth of spending in the next decade if a special supercommittee didn't have a better idea. The supercommittee ended up being a colossal failure.

3. The House passed lots of symbolic bills that died in the Senate. The House ushered through a handful of socially and fiscally conservative bills in the name of political theater that never saw the light of day. Tea Party Republicans passed the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act as answer to the debt crisis, while their colorfully named Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act sought to repeal Obama's landmark legislation. The House also had its sights set on abortion, first with the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which memorably attempted to redefine rape, and then with the Protect Life Act, a bill to bar federal funding for health plans covering abortion.

4. Meanwhile, a jobs bill couldn't get through the House or the Senate. In September, President Obama proposed a jobs bill that didn't even fly with the Democratic-controlled Senate. In response, Obama vowed to break up the bill into smaller pieces. Since then, two smaller bills involving teachers and infrastructure have choked and died. (A smaller piece tweaking the Internal Revenue Code made it through.) The Republicans' idea of a job bill? Repealing the corporate income tax and reducing business regulations. Needless to say, the Senate has not been on board.

What happens next? The Bush tax cuts, as well as a payroll tax holiday, are about to expire, and Congress has yet to iron out the details. The House still has five of 11 regular appropriations bills to pass for fiscal 2012. They're also hard at work on a regulatory reforms bill, which is, of course, as good as dead in the Senate. Beyond all that, there are a bunch of last-minute, uncontroversial measures circulating. As we enter the new year, let's hope for more action—and a lot less squabbling.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Fovea Centralis.

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

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For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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