Come the fifth of January 2015, Congress will be without a handful of giants, all of whom have decided to retire. The upcoming 114th Congress will be the first since 1933 without a Michigan Representative named John David Dingell. (It should be noted that there will still be
a Michigan Representative named Dingell: John Jr's. wife Debbie.) Moreover, Michigan will no longer be represented by Carl Levin in the Senate; he's retiring after six 6-year terms. Likewise, the House will be without two California giants: Henry Waxman and George Miller, both of whom entered Congress on January 3, 1975. And then there's Iowa, where, after 30 years, Senator Tom Harkin has retired.
These five giants, who served in the House or Senator for a combined 206 years, were among the most powerful and respected members of Congress and collectively were responsible for enacting 163 laws signed by the President of the United States. Among their varied accomplishments:
Rep. John Dingell, Jr., taking a page from his father who served in the House from 1933-1955, introduced National Healthcare Legislation on the first day of every Congress. That would be from 1955 to 2014. He was one of the earliest fathers of the Affordable Healthcare Act, and the longest-tenured member of Congress in the country's history.
- Sen. Carl Levin, the longtime Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was generally recognized as one of the Upper Chambers most respected authorities on all things military. His brother Sandy, continues to serve in the House.
- Sen. Tom Harkin will forever be known as "The father of the Americans With Disabilities Act" (ADA).
- Rep. Henry Waxman was the father of both the Orphan Drug Act (1983) and the Clean Air Act (1990) and, as Chair of the House Energy and Health Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, held some of the earliest Congressional hearings on AIDS, universal health insurance and tobacco.
- Rep. George Miller, the longtime Chair of the House Labor and Education Committee, successfully sponsored important legislation on behalf of workers and students, and was responsible for creating two new national parks: Death Valley and Josha Tree.
Yes indeed, the 114th Congress will be without some of its giants . . . and pygmies as well.
Yes indeed, pygmies.
When it convenes on January 5, the House will be without five world-class pygmies: Representatives Steve Stockman (TX), Kerry Bentivolio (MI), Steve Southerland (FL),
Paul Broun (GA), and the "pygmiest pygmy of them all," Michele Bachmann (MN). With the exception of Ms. Bachmann, who had announced her retirement back on May 29, 2013, the other four were either defeated in their House primaries (Southerland, Broun and Bentivolio), or lost in a primary for Senate (Stockman). Serving a combined 24 years in Congress, none of the five were known for their legislative accomplishments; between them they had precisely 0 bills which became law. Rather, they were far better known for quotable quotes and twerpy tweets:
Rep. Steve Stockman
In April, Stockman's Twitter account showed off his latest bumper sticker, which said, simply, "If babies had guns, they wouldn't be aborted."
- At one point, Stockman went after the Kinsey Report, the epochal mid-20th century work by biologist Alfred Kinsey. He actually introduced a bill trying to get the federal government to defund any programs based on Kinsey's work. At the time, Stockman said "This indicates that the basis of sex education in America is a study of the systematic molestation of children as young as four-months-old."
- In November of 2013, when the initial enrollment numbers for Obamacare were released, Stockman tweeted "About 110,000 people contract chlamydia each month, more than signed up for Obamacare. Obamacare is less popular than chlamydia."
Rep. Steve Southerland
When challenged on many of his positions regarding women, Southerland proclaimed: "I’m not sexist, look, I know some women. [That I’m related to]."
- Invoked the shooting of former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords to make the case that his salary of $174,000 per year as a representative was “not enough.”
- Southerland, being scored about how much members of Congress earn in comparison to the average wage earner, said: “If you think this job pays too much, with those kinds of risks and cutting me off from my family business, I’ll just tell you: This job don’t mean that much to me. I had a good life in Panama City.”
Rep. Paul Broun, M.D.
A practicing physician, Broun has repeated declared that “God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior."
- During his recent race for the Senate (in which he came in 5th in a 7 person Republican field), Broun’s fundraising letters boasted that he was “the first Member of Congress to call [Obama] a socialist who embraces Marxist-Leninist policies” and said last month that given the chance he’d vote to impeach the president.
- In 2008 Broun claimed that President Obama, whom he likened to Adolf Hitler and Karl Marx, was plotting an armed takeover with a civilian military force.
Rep. Kerry Bentivilio
Speaking before the Birmingham/Bloomfield (MI) Republican Club, Bentivolio said that it would be a “dream come true” to submit a bill to impeach President Obama. Bentivolio also said he had had meetings with lawyers asking them to “tell me how I can impeach” the president of the United States.
- When asked "If you could make an amendment to the Constitution, what would it be?" Bentivolio responded, " I would entertain a debate on repealing the 17th Amendment." (n.b.: This is the amendment which made the popular election of U.S. Senators possible.)
And then there is Michele Bachmann.
Throughout her 4 terms in Congress and her utterly quixotic run for the Republican presidential nomination, Bachmann has been an eminently quotable gargoyle of fatuity. Consider but a handful:
"If we took away the . . . we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level." (Jan. 2005)
- "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?" (Oct. 2008)
- "Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas." (April 2009)
- "I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine (HPV), that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter." (Sep. 2011).
- "But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States. ... I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forbearers who worked tirelessly -- men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country." (Jan. 2011. n.b. The Founders did not work to end slavery, and J.Q. Adams was not a founder, but rather the son of a founder.)
Yes, the upcoming 114th Congress will be a much poorer place because of the absence of Waxman, Levin, Miller and Harkin . . . and a far less entertaining place because of the absense of Stockman, Southerland, Bachmann and Bentivolio.
At least we'll still have Elizabeth Warren to marvel at and Louis Gohmert to kick around
Copyright©2014 Kurt F. Stone