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Op-Ed: USA, Our Zombie Congress

Did you ever wonder what Americans are obsessed with?

Turn on your TV almost any night and take note of the vampire shows like True Blood or The Vampire Diaries.

Think about Michael Jackson’s famous video, “Thriller,” where he transforms into a zombie, while walking in the cemetery singing, “It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark.”

Zombies entered our popular culture in 1968 with the film “Night of the Living Dead,” creating an image of a mindless undead human, living in an animated state, incapable of making decisions. Does any of this sound familiar?

Last October, public policy polling actually ranked the approval rate for zombies to be 6 percent higher than the approval rate for our U.S. Congress.

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Can you imagine? The American public now ranks the undead higher than the living, confirming the concept that zombies (who are technically incapable of making decisions) are actually more capable than Congress.

In this month’s poll by Real Clear Politics, Congress has a 79 percent disapproval rate. Congress has only been able to accomplish a few pieces of landmark legislation in the first 18 months of the 24-month term. Since they have done so little, surely their focus is on our most important domestic and international issues.

However, just to give you an idea of what’s really going on in Washington, with an apparent attempt to get back at the zombie lovers, Congress used one of the very few bills it has passed, to legislate authority for officials to dig up the dead.

I would draw your attention to U.S. Senate legislation number S1471. This bill says that if it’s found that you are buried in a national cemetery, and they uncover that you committed (but were not convicted of) a crime, someone can dig you up.

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Of course, the legislation notes that your next of kin would be notified, but if there are none, they can theoretically dump you just about anywhere. One could imagine that the same people who bungled our beloved veteran’s physician appointments would likely be dealing with these re-burials.

For those of us who make our living from trade, it’s clear that the 113th Congress hasn’t passed any beneficial trade legislation at all.

In fact, as of mid-June, only 86 bills have been signed into law, and none have to do with trade. Of course, there are those in Congress who really do want to help, but wanting to help and actually helping, are two different things.

Given the August recess fast approaching, and the upcoming congressional elections, this Congress is genuinely on track to be the least productive in American history.

Each congressional session lasts 24 months, and careful analysis of passed bills indicates that the productivity of Congress keeps decreasing, while the cost of Congress keeps increasing.

The 111th Congress was 17 percent less productive than the 110th (as judged by passed legislation).

The 112th Congress was 43 percent less productive than the 111th.

And the current 113th Congress is on track to be 50 percent less productive than the 112th.

By the time the 114th Congress rolls into place in January 2015, expectations will be so low, that Congressmen will have to look up, to look down. They can probably work from home, as there will be no real reason for them to come to Washington at all.

Not to alarm you, but please keep in mind that while Congress is not passing new trade laws, they are also letting old ones expire. Essentially, this means that our trade community is officially sliding backward, along with the rest of the U.S. economy.

No one wants to get too bored with what Congress has failed to do, but they didn’t renew TPA (fast track legislation), they didn’t renew MTB’s (Miscellaneous Tariff Bills), they didn’t renew GSP (Generalized System of Preferences), and they are set to not renew the Nicaragua TPL, and possibly AGOA (The African Growth & Opportunity Act).

Trade is a serious economic topic, and with Congress failing to support those of us who make a living from it, please do make “trade” a question when you attend your next congressional fundraiser. Congressmen and Senators are not afraid to ask you to contribute, and now it’s time you started asking them what they are doing for us. Americans dislike Congress, but they do love their Congressmen.

We truly need a trade-aggressive Congress, not a zombie Congress.

Michael Jackson had it right in Thriller: “The foulest stench’s in the air, The funk of forty thousand years, And grizzly ghouls from every tomb, Are closing in to seal your doom.”



Rick Helfenbein is Chairman of the Board of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. He is a fierce advocate for a robust USA Trade Agenda and speaks frequently on the subjects of supply chain and international trade.