Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Congress Takes A Vacation

With news that the White House and Congressional leaders have worked out a deal that will raise the debt limit through March 2017, fund the federal government and wrap other important matters like the highway bill into a massive legislative burrito, the passage of any additional, meaningful legislation before the President leaves office in January 2017 has come to an end.

This is quite convenient for incoming Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. He need not sully himself with the messy details of governing or horse trading with the so-called Freedom Caucus over threats to default on our debt or other silliness. He can focus on his primary interests, which appear to be convincing the country that Social Security and Medicare need to be some combination of slashed and privatized while ensuring the wealthiest Americans pay as little in taxes as humanly possible.

More generally, this gives Congress the freedom to do fuck all before Election Day 2016, which I would guess suits the 435 members of the House and 34 Senators who are up for re-election just fine. Without the need to do the basic blocking and tackling of legislating, they are free to raise money and campaign about how shitty their opponents are without fear of having to do any work. In the Senate, any notion of basic governing, like voting on Obama appointees to the federal judiciary or a random Cabinet Secretary (looking at you, soon-to-be Acting Secretary of Education John King, Jr.) are already out the window and with Republicans nursing a small majority that they desperately want to hold on to so they can either ram through a new Republican President’s agenda or get to the business of blocking anything a new Democratic President might do.

This also works nicely for the media. After all, why bother having reporters on Capitol Hill when they can be disbursed to cover the antics of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and the rest of the crew on the Republican side or hound Hillary Clinton while she waltzes to the Democratic nomination. Campaigns are far more compelling than dreary legislative sausage making or Committee hearings (oh right, we had one of those recently and after drumming up anticipation for months, the media gave a “move along, nothing to see here” sign when Trey Gowdy deteriorated into a puddle of sweat).

I suppose we should not get too upset about this. After all, it is nice that there will be people to inspect our food, investigate criminal activity, and allow us access to national parks, but one wonders whether a bit more should be expected from people making $174,000 a year and who are provided with lifetime health benefits after serving 5 years in office. Of course, since Congress is only in session for about 135 days each year, passing a budget and ensuring that the bills get paid may be the bare minimum of what it can do – the equivalent of getting a D minus grade on an exam in a class you are taking pass/fail. Hoping that Congress would address larger societal concerns like gun safety, climate change, income inequality, or the minimum wage, or would keep the judiciary properly staffed with judges and Cabinet agencies helmed by people who receive Senate confirmation seems to be more than we should expect anymore.

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