Teetering on the cliff demonstrates the dysfunctional nature of Congress
“Congress is an institution designed to represent the people. It has become a body where too often its members act as if they represent only Republicans or only Democrats. No wonder so many Americans hold it in such low regard.” — Dan Balz, Washington Post.
Perhaps you’re reading this column today from the bottom of the fiscal cliff. Or not.
That’s the danger of writing an opinion piece on Monday morning about congressional action still very much in play.
The choices are to take a chance on predicting what might have happened in the hours between putting words on paper and seeing them in print, or trying to place whatever might happen into a larger context.
Since it’s folly to predict what congressional Democrats and Republicans might do at the last minute, I’m opting for the latter course, while hoping for the best out of the former.
I have no idea of Colorado State University basketball coach Larry Eustachy’s politics. The following quote from an Associated Press article in Sunday’s Daily Sentinel was in the context of how he viewed his recovery from alcoholism, not about politics. But it could apply also to the fiscal cliff fiasco in our nation’s capital.
“Nobody wants to know how rough the water is,” Eustachy said. “They want to know if you rowed the boat home ... that’s the bottom line.”
As I write this column, about 16 hours before we reach the edge of the cliff, it’s still debatable whether or not anyone in Washington is rowing toward shore. We have heard chapter and verse about how rough the water is, usually in the context of Republicans or Democrats blaming the other side for stirring up the waves.
Certainly one purpose of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives is to debate the issues of the day. Senators and congressmen have more than fulfilled that responsibility in regard to revenues and expenditures over the past several months, though it’d be easy to make the case that not much new has emerged in the latter stages of that debate. What they’ve forgotten is that there’s another responsibility that attaches to their position — to govern.
That’s difficult to accomplish when there’s little willingness to step across partisan lines, whether in the lingering fiscal debate or any other topic. When those we elect to represent us seem to care little about whether or not we can plan our own financial futures with any reasonable certainty as they lurch from one self-inflicted crisis to another, while pawing and snorting and placing more import on marking their partisan hydrants than on problem-solving.
Let’s look at what’s happened in the later stages off our journey toward the fiscal cliff.
In the House, Speaker John Boehner has been effectively neutered by his own caucus, unable to even bring his “Plan B” to a vote. If there’s any leadership save partisan rhetoric coming from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the other side of the aisle, please point it out to me.
Over in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to have awakened from a deep sleep, set aside his talking points and started to play an active role in negotiations. But who’s on the other side of the table from McConnell? None other than Vice President Joe Biden, a veteran Senate dealmaker who seems to have replaced whiny Majority Leader Harry Reid as the lead Democrats in talks with McConnell.
Is anyone else wondering what political genius advised the president to jet off to Hawaii for a few days in the midst of all this fiscal turmoil? The route for Air Force One might better have included the districts of Boehner and McConnell, Pelosi and Reid and other key lawmakers.
I hope those of us who’d just like to file our tax returns early might know soon, perhaps even today, what rate we’ll be paying, whether anything’s been done about the Alternative Minimum Tax or estate taxes and whether our elected federal representatives have chosen to act now or kick the can down the road, further exacerbating the partisanship and adding justification to the disgust many of us feel about their inability to couple governing with debate.
“The more you observe politics, the more you’ve got to admit that each party is worse than the other.” — Will Rogers.