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Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 7, 2013
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*Starred Review* At the height of the financial crisis of 2008, public distrust of Congress was nearly as great as its distrust of the Wall Street bankers behind the collapse. Still, Congress had to set aside enormous egos, political considerations, and fear of blame to pass legislation in record time to stave off a collapse. For 18 months, Washington Post reporter Kaiser was granted unprecedented access to the major figures behind the recovery legislation, most notably the colorful, irascible congressman Barney Frank and cautious senator Christopher Dodd, the men for whom the final legislation was named. In this riveting account, Kaiser details the 15-day roller-coaster drama behind the law that rescued the banking system and instituted new safeguards. Beyond the major players, Kaiser also focuses on the staffs, often the real brains behind legislation because congressmen lack expertise in or understanding of the complex issues about which they legislate. What unfolds is high drama of ill-considered symbolic actions, political posturing, number crunching, speechifying, and deal-making. Beyond the financial crisis, Kaiser offers an insightful primer on how laws are made, from conception to passage, as well as the characters and culture of the U.S. Congress, observed from an astonishing perspective most citizens never see. --Vanessa Bush
If there is an animating force behind Act of Congress—the newest book from longtime Washington Post reporter and editor Robert G. Kaiser—it's an attempt to explain this contradiction: How can the most productive Congress since the 1970s also stand as the most dysfunctional in more than a century? His case study is the successful two-year effort to pass financial reform and deal with the regulatory aftermath of the economic crisis. —Jamelle Bouie
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Of particular interest is Rep. Frank and Sen. Dodd's opinion of their colleague's. Kaiser's description of Rep. Maxine Waters was worth the price of the book!
As to the overall message of the book, it is one of despair. It would appear that our elected officials now make all legislative decisions based on 1) how to optimize lobbyist dollars, 2) how to gain maximum political advantage, 3) how does this affect the next election. The question of what is best for the country and constituents is rarely a significant factor.
Overall, a fascinating story that unfortunately does not inspire hope in our future.