Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A critique of Congress - and a defense

On the one hand, I thought the 9% approval rating for Congress was absurd. The Democratic Senate has blocked a lot of harm, and started the multi-decade cleanup that may continue if Obama is elected. Since the Dems need some GOP support to get by filibusters and a Bush veto, the scope for action is necessarily limited.

On the other hand, this critique is interesting ...

Congressional Do's and Don't Do's | Britannica Blog

A recent poll of Americans turned up the fact that just nine percent approve of the job the present Congress has been doing...

I consulted the online calendar of the House of Representatives for the day I write this, Friday, July 11, and found that the House was in recess. They’ll be back to work on Monday, they promise, though not until 12:30 in the afternoon. The day before, it seems that the bulk of the day was spent discussing the creation of a new historic trail commemorating something from the Revolutionary War. A bit of time was given over to congratulating NASA for some anniversary, and some more time to something to do with flood insurance. Heady and very patriotic stuff, to be sure.

Over in the Senate, David Vitter – he whose phone number somehow got into the hands of the so-called “D.C. Madame” – and Larry Craig – he of the unfortunate “wide stance” in men’s rooms – are cosponsoring a “Marriage Protection Amendment” to the Constitution. Mere ridicule fails before such gall. I doubt that even that master of political shiv work, Mort Sahl, could have adequately satirized these two buffoons...

... Now, it’s unfair, I know, to criticize on the basis of one day’s record of floor proceedings in the House. There are committee hearings – on major league baseball, for example – and staff work and constituent assistance and such things going on in the background. And fund-raising, Lord knows. My local newspaper carries a report on the recent activities of our congresspersons which can be summarized thus: No sweat.

So let’s go to the tape:

  • Health care: Nothing
  • Social Security: Nada
  • Energy policy: Zip
  • Immigration: Bupkes
  • Earmarks: You kidding?

It could be argued that we the citizenry are actually better off for congressional inaction. This might well be true but for the fact that inaction now simply leaves in place the bad policies already on the books. Having mandated that gasoline contain a certain proportion of ethanol, for example, certainly counts as a stab at an energy policy, while forbidding the import of cheap sugar-based ethanol in favor of the domestic kind, which drives up the price of corn and myriad other corn-based food and non-food products, counts as reelection-inspired stupid policy.

Know what Congress is really good at? Creating federal crimes...

It's an interesting list of inactive topics. Here's my take at why nothing can happen, and as usual the fault is not Congress. In fact, it's not even all the GOP's fault. The fault lies in us:
  • Health care: Dems can't override a Bush veto. So nothing can happen here. Real reform will either increase taxes or redistribute costs among health care consumers, so it can only be done at the start of year one of a 2nd Obama term. (Seriously, real reform is at least that far away. America is not ready for how much this will hurt. The fault is ours.)
  • Social Security: Social security needs important tweaks, not an overhaul. Health care is the problem. The author has bought into Bush propaganda. Invest in dementia prevention research.
  • Energy policy: The Bush problem, again. This could improve in year one of a first Obama term.
  • Immigration: Too close to an election, and we need much more national discussion. This will get addressed after the election, no matter who wins.
  • Earmarks: Voters love them. We're the problem, not Congress.

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