Limited legislation and high levels of dysfunction were hallmarks of the U.S. Congress in the past year and Rep. Bill Foster, D-11th, is quick to point out why.
“This past year under Republican leadership has resulted in, unfortunately, the least productive Congress since the Great Depression,” said the Naperville Democrat as he opened a Jan. 17 telephone town hall meeting. “(Republicans) spend a lot of time fighting with each other rather than coming up with common sense compromises that are the way our government manages and operates.
“It’s beyond frustrating.”
During the 117th Congress (2020-22) Democrats held the majority in the House of Representatives and pushed a massive COVID-19 assistance and stimulus package, major infrastructure funding, tougher gun control, addressed climate change and offered continued military help for Ukraine.
Then Republicans narrowly took House control in 2023 and almost everything ground to a halt.
The GOP first struggled to even elect a leader, then settled into a pattern of internal gridlock. According to The New York Times, Congress has passed just 27 bills that were signed into law compared to hundreds in other years.
“The Republican dysfunction continues to make it difficult to take action on some of our most important issues — from addressing our broken immigration system to tackling gun violence to passing much-needed support for our allies in Ukraine and many other things,” Foster said.
Even as Foster spoke, Republican resistance put the government just days away from a potential shutdown due to the lack of an overall budget or even a stopgap measure to continue operations.
“We’re about 48 hours from a pending government shutdown unless we get some useful Congressional action to stop that,” he said.
(On Jan. 18, the House and Senate averted a shutdown by passing a short-term spending plan through early March).
Foster, who plans to run for an eighth full term in November, represents a district that includes portions of DuPage, Kane, DeKalb, McHenry, Winnebago, Boone, Lake counties and even a slice of Cook.
He answered nearly a dozen questions submitted both in advance and live during the 75-minute session.
Despite Congressional deadlocks and dysfunction, Foster said his staff had performed at high levels while addressing and solving constituent problems.
“Over the last year my office in Illinois has helped recover nearly $900,000 for constituents from federal agencies like the IRS or the Social Security Administration,” he said. “We (also) helped resolve nearly 600 case requests. These are constituents of mine that have encountered frustrations with the federal government, where there’s a federal government bureaucrat that’s not doing their work as they should. A call from a congressional office is something that can often free up the logjam and get my constituents the services they need and deserve.”
On other issues:
- Foster expressed strong support for a new round of funding for Ukraine. A package is on hold due to Republican resistance and “political reasons,” he said. “We shouldn’t be playing games with people under mortal threat…. They are a democracy defending their freedom.”
- He reiterated support for Israel, now involved with a war with the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip. “I believe that Israel has a right to defend itself and I cannot support any resolution that would prevent Israel from retaliating against Hamas for what they did on Oct. 7,” he said. “(But) I have a lot of problems with the way it is indiscriminately putting lives in danger (in Gaza). … I’m also a longstanding skeptic of what the (Benjamin) Netanyahu government is doing to the Palestinian people.”
- Expressed sympathy for immigrants and the current wave arriving at both the country’s southern border and Illinois. Foster said they have a legal right to be considered for asylum in the United States, but systems to determine qualification have broken down. “We have to improve border security but at the same time maintain humane treatment,” he said. “We have to have an orderly and legal process and what has happened is that it has become disorderly … Right now, there is a two-year backlog and so during that time they are allowed to stay in the United States.”