Don’t Be Fooled, Congress isn’t Working

December 15th, 2011 at 5:37 pm | 15 Comments |

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For the seventh time this year alone, check Congress appears poised to pass another continuing resolution for spending for a fiscal year that has already begun.

If any fact indicts the dysfunction of both the Executive and Legislative Branches, here that fact does.

Late last night, capsule the House of Representatives passed a one-day Continuing Resolution for FY12 appropriations. Tonight, it may pass an omnibus appropriations bill that will fund 9 of the 12 annual appropriations bills. Those bills should have been passed and signed into law more than 2 months ago. Negotiations under way as we write could yield an omnibus by Friday night (the expiration date of the present CR), which would clear the decks for the more prolonged and painful debate on extending Unemployment Insurance, preventing a large decrease in health care providers under Medicare, and extending in some form the payroll tax holiday.

Although the two measures are legislatively and legally separate, Congressional deliberations and negotiations have combined the two. We suspect that the CR for FY12 will pass more quickly than the payroll tax, et al., bill.

This kind of last minute silliness has barely caused a media ripple this week. Ten years ago, the threat of a government shutdown would lead on evening news starting a week in advance. It barely makes the news now, until less than 24 hours remain until expiration of spending authority.

The country, of course, has given up trying to keep track of these gyrations. They don’t know if the President has been involved in any significant way (he hasn’t), what the specific issues are (many members of Congress themselves don’t know), nor what is in either bill (and, again, only a few members and senior staff really know). All they know is this—these folks can’t get their work done on time, act like kids squabbling in a sand box most of the time, and that neither the Obama “change” of the 2008 elections, nor the Tea Party “change” of the 2010 elections have done anything noticeable.

Of course, members of both parties have enjoyed dumping on Congress for years now. Voters are starting to show the same disdain of the institution that the members reveal when they use anti-Washington blather as campaign talking points. How anyone thinks he or she isn’t destroying the institution of which they are members, without hurting the regard in which they themselves are held, has to be left to psychologists’ analyses. Obama hasn’t changed Washington, D.C.; the Tea Party hasn’t.

One day back in the mid-1980s, President Ronald Reagan gathered up two 10-pound mounds of paper and used them as speech props. He thundered, “We will never do this again!” Those two stacks of papers were a comprehensive appropriations bill and a reconciliation bill. A year after his thundering, the President once again signed into law another continuing resolution. This is not to say that these kinds of incomprehensible bills, containing provisions that see the light of day only months after the bill becomes law, are regular order. They aren’t. But, they give many members, as well as the President, maximum leverage to get what they want.

So, a quarter of a century after the Reagan pledge, Congress and the Executive Branch still engage in the same behavior. Nothing has changed.

Indeed, the very notion of “change” implies that some “magic answer” exists. If we could only discover this answer, then we would make Washington, D.C., something that no other institution in the world is—efficient, driven by rational considerations, clear of any partisan or political ill-will. This is the way children think. “This is bad. We need to make it good. I know how.”

Instead of changing government, the policymakers of the nation would serve their neighbors better if they merely pledged to manage the chaos of human interaction as best as they could.

The media used to laugh at George H.W. Bush because he had no “vision.” We don’t need visions. We have plenty of visionaries—they populate the Occupy movement, the Tea Party movement, the Progressive caucus. They all know “the answer.” Perhaps because Bush I had faced real danger in World War II as an 18-year-old fighter pilot, and had seen the black inside of totalitarian regimes, regimes which knew “the answer” and were willing to kill millions of their own citizens to impose that answer, perhaps because of that, Bush I had more faith in actions than visions.

What we need are policymakers who admit no one “answer” exists and that the best we can do is allow as free a marketplace of ideas as we can, consistent with individual safety. And, then we vote.

But, that doesn’t make a very catchy campaign bumper sticker, does it?

Congress will pass government funding, it will eventually get some forms of UI, payroll tax holiday and Medicare docs’ fix. It will do it as it did the CR for FY11 this past Spring, as it did the increase in the debt ceiling in August—in the messiest, most painful way possible. And in the way that erodes most quickly the tiny bit of regard it now commands.

Recent Posts by Steve Bell

15 Comments so far ↓

  • CAPryde

    What we need are policymakers who admit no one “answer” exists and that the best we can do is allow as free a marketplace of ideas as we can, consistent with individual safety. And, then we vote.

    This analysis makes no sense. As you point out elsewhere in the article, people DID vote, twice, for people in 2008 and 2010 who promised the type of change you describe as “one answer.”

    I agree with you that Washington is broken, but the solutions offered in this article sound as starry-eyed as, well, the people that it mocks.

    • Frumplestiltskin

      I agree 100%. “Vote for me, I don’t have the answer” is ludicrous. And it is wrong. There are easily discernible answers for a host of issues. In Libya it was support the rebels overthrow a genuine mass murderer of Americans in Gadhafi. In Pakistan it was use a covert Seal team to take out Osama Bin Laden. How could either of these been multiple choice and put up for a vote?
      In domestic policy we can use reason and science to answer a host of issues, like how much arsenic is safe in our drinking water and how much to regulate it, or if it is sensible to reconstruct our decaying infrastructure when interest rates are at an all time low and when doing so boosts out employment situation? We know the answers to this and we know the Republican solution is to say no.

      Lets not forget that Gingrich was for the war in Libya until Obama was, then he was against it. And when Gadhafi was overthrown Republicans congratulated the French and British slighting American servicemen in the Navy and Airforce and likely US special forces, when the US had well over 50% of the flights, armaments, etc.

      Congress doesn’t work because Republicans want to bring down Obama. That is all we need to know.

  • chicago_guy

    Another pundit refusing to accept the new reality – the GOP is now the party of obstruction, and nothing else. It’s their way of trying to distract the public from seeing just HOW much of the blame for the current economic situation is the direct result of their own malfeasance from 1998 through 2008.

    Call them out on it, but please, don’t lie by saying that the administration is somehow to blame for their intransigence. Obama has been willing to negotiate – the Republicans have been unwilling to do the same. Clearly, both parties are not equally culpable for the failures to come to concert.

  • balconesfault

    Seriously … the GOP has built their politics for decades around the pitch that Congress is a flawed institution that must be tolerated at best … and that the proper role for the current Congress is to dismantle or neuter most of what Congress has done since 1932, and to make sure that the effectiveness of any Democratic Presidency is minimized.

    If people believe that Government is inherently evil, you shouldn’t elect them to run the Government – unless you just want Government to fail.

    • margoharris1

      “Republicans are the party that says that government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”- PJ O’Rourke

  • Graychin

    If you’re a Congressional Republican, Congress “not working” isn’t a bug – it’s a feature. They’re hoping that next year the electorate will blame all the country’s ills on Obama.

    Will they be rewarded?

    • Reflection Ephemeral

      Yep, this is a strategy– the GOP wants to break our politics.

      As to whether it’ll work… well, folks like Steve Bell will try to help them by never calling a spade a spade and explain what’s happening. But it’s unclear:

      • Reflection Ephemeral

        Incidentally, the GOP is trying to destroy American institutions not merely because they hate the results of the 2008 election, but also because they think it helps them long term, as lifelong GOP staffer Mike Lofgren pointed out:

        A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner. A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn …

  • Oldskool

    The founding fathers screwed up. It happens. They left no way for different types of government to compete. Ours is failing because systemic failures were allowed to be put in place by Congress. One being the 60 vote threshold and another being the effects of big money. Those kinds of things should have been unconstitutional, along with hostage-taking. What used to seem to be an idealic system now seems insane.

  • SteveThompson

    Here is an article showing how the United States, holder of over $15 trillion in debt, is unlikely to ever achieve fiscal balance:

    Should interest rates rise to the average level of the past decade, interest on the debt would reach $700 billion, consuming 70 percent of individual income tax revenue and all but negate the impact of Budget Control Act spending cuts.

  • RationalProvidence

    “Don’t Be Fooled, Congress isn’t Working”

    I am not fooled. Congress is working, for some. It is working exactly the way the employers of the Republican party want it to work. The 1% have purchased Congress as an investment that is paying huge rewards. The 99% are paying the dividends.

    You make a false comparison between the TEA Party and the Occupy movement.

    First, the Occupy movement is not a subsidiary of a political party. The TEA party was founded by those in the 1% who want the 99% to think they still own the country and have a say in its future. And all the problems can be solved by hurting the most vulnerable (even as the members of the TEA party become members of the most vulnerable. The TEA party pretends to have the answers. And they proclaim the “truth” every day with a religious certainty.

    The Occupy movement, on the other hand, presents only the questions, not the answers.

    One of these questions is why Congress has changed the rules so that the 99% pay for all the risk and the 1% gets all the reward.

    When we answer that question (and others like it), we can begin to demand that congress work for the 99% again.

    Don’t be fooled by false equivalencies and comparisons that have no rational basis. And don’t be fooled into thinking the 1% care about anything other than holding on to the congress they purchased.

  • LFC

    Let’s repost another graph of Republican obstructionism:

    Three huge leaps in the use of the filibuster as an obstructionist tool, each one of them red. Republicans have decided that minority veto is the proper way to “govern”. But, to tie into the “I Hate Bullies” post, when the Dems pick up the very same “normal” set by the Republics, the right-wing noise machine whines and cries about how terrible they are.

    Over the past 2 decades Republicans have proven, in stunning fashion, that they are unfit to govern.

  • Lonewolf

    For heaven’s sake, it is neither the Legislative nor Executive that is broken. It is the Republican Party. Mitch McConnell and his band of political vandals have spent three entire years doing only two things – seeking out bigger, heavier millstones to drape around the President’s neck, and throwing any monkey wrench that comes within arms’ reach into the legislative machinery.
    Democrats have shown time and again they are willing to reason, to listen, to alter, to compromise. The President has shown countless times, he is willing to negotiate and to hammer out deals. But Boehner, like Lawrence of Arabia, just takes the his cutlass out of its scabbard, waves it menacingly above his head, screams “NO PRISONERS!” to his squalid little cavalry, and gallops into the slaughter.
    Not one Republican legislator in ten deserves re-election. And the current crop of GOP Presidential candidates (with the exception of Paul) proved during the debate last night that they are nothing more than a bunch of delusional, pandering warmongers.