History Quiz

Question: When was the last time Congress formally declared war? Answer: World War II, against Japan, Germany, and Italy. Don’t feel too badly if you guessed wrong. After all, the United States has been involved in a number of armed conflicts since then. Maybe a large number. Why didn’t Congress declare war in those cases? Well, that’s a complicated question. You might be forgiven, though, for wondering if they pay attention.

Question: When was the last time Congress passed a balanced budget? Answer: Congress reformed its budget-making process in 1974. The comprehensive 1974 reforms aimed to clean up a messy process, but I don’t know of any year since then that Congress passed a budget that did not involve some level of new debt. I just heard that US Senators, on the average, out perform Warren Buffet with their stock portfolios by a few percent each year, on average. Hey, they must be really smart! On the other hand, they never seem to come up with a balanced budget. Interesting…

Question: When was the last time Congress passed the annual federal budget (balanced or not) under its own rules? Answer: Of the tasks assigned to Congress by the US Constitution, perhaps the most important annual job is to create the federal budget. But they usually fumble the ball and pass continuing resolutions and/or omnibus bills instead. The last time Congress followed their own rules and passed the federal budget by the October 1 deadline was in 1996, the last year of Bill Clinton’s first term as president. Bismarck famously said that people who love law or sausage should not watch either one being made; I suppose this applies to budgets, too.

Question: Why do we keep reelecting incumbents to Congress? Good question.

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