Few sessions of Congress have been so defined by gridlock and ideological strife as the first half of the 112th. The members broke new ground in their obstructionism and intransigence, leaving even the most seasoned political observers in awe of the apparent dysfunction plaguing our nation’s capital. If you’re thinking it can’t possibly be any worse, welcome to the election year edition.
In Washington, once-routine legislation has become ground zero for partisan showdowns. Two of the most obvious are the debt-ceiling debate of last summer and the payroll tax extension fight that concluded the First Session in December. Unfortunately, despite all of the energy expended on both sides of these battles, neither albatross was resolved in any meaningful way. The payroll tax holiday was grudgingly extended for a mere two months, making it Issue Number 1 when Congress returns to Washington in a few weeks. The debt ceiling was eventually raised last summer, albeit in a press-played panic attack that made Chicken Little look like an amateur. It took nine months of debate, an 11th hour compromise, and threats of government shutdown, treasury defaults, and millions of unemployed Americans suffering the casualties, before the deficit hawks in the House agreed overwhelmingly to raise the debt limit by $2.4 trillion in a vote that lasted 20 minutes.
As we know, the super compromise created the Supercommittee, which then spent months deliberating over the task of identifying $1.2 trillion in spending cuts only to chicken out of doing anything. This will now trigger a series of painful across-the-board cuts to virtually the entire federal government, effective January 2013. Some in Congress are already making plans to recall the sequestration. President Obama has vowed to veto any legislation which seeks to circumvent the mandated reduction schedule. It will take all year to learn whose goose gets cooked on that one.
And if those two issues alone don’t make one crazy as a loon, consider this: the Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year, the Highway Trust Fund is expected to require a bailout unless additional revenue streams are found, and the annual appropriations battles will begin again in February. In any year, these issues would be contentious and hard-fought, but this is not just any year. It’s a presidential election year. Politics trumps all and ideology reaches a fever pitch, with every issue a soapbox for the two parties to emphasize the righteousness of their party’s view - in stark contrast to the apocalypse their opponents’ policies seek to invite. Think Aflac duck on steroids; lots of squawking with nobody listening.
Then there’s the infamous lame duck session to look forward to at the end of this second half. Not so ironically, Wikipedia defines that “the phrase lame duck was coined in the 18th century at the London Stock Exchange, to refer to”……wait for it….”a broker who defaulted on his debts.”
If you could choose just one of these things that Congress had to complete, what would make you happy as a lark?
Written by: Leslie Mozingo, The Ferguson Group