No question. No political science degree is required. Common sense recognizes that the political mechanism governing our country from the District of Columbia is broken. The problem is not Democrats who spend too much or Republicans who tax too little, but politicians whose primary focus is re-election in order to savor the scent of power. This means checks and the lobbyists who provide them. An important book written by Robert Kaiser, ‘So Much Damn Money’: The Influence Of Lobbyists, describes how government interaction between the elected and the electorate actually works.
The following piece written by David Broder depicts the vacuous partisanship which is self-defeating for the elected and the electorate.
John Boehner’s useful thoughts on fixing Congress
By David S. Broder
Sunday, October 3, 2010
The Democrats were lying in wait for John Boehner when the Republican leader of the House announced that he would address the subject of congressional reform in a speech Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute.
Before Boehner opened his mouth, Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted him in a statement charging that “Congressional Republicans and Mr. Boehner have stood in the way of Democratic reform efforts in Congress for the last four years, and now they want to take America back to the exact same failed policies of the past that put the corporate special interests ahead of the middle class.”
That is par for the course in this campaign season, and it represents the sort of reflexive partisanship that voters are understandably sick of.
Unless the forecasts for next month’s elections are wildly off course, the House will operate in 2011-12 with a small majority under the nominal control of Pelosi or Boehner, but probably at the mercy of shifting coalitions.
In such a setting, it might well behoove people to assume that Boehner should be taken seriously when he acknowledges that the reputation of this Congress is so bad that it cries out for reform.
Many of the Republican leader’s proposals are standard, and some that are not are questionable. But few who serve in the House, or observe it closely, would challenge Boehner’s analysis of the dynamic that has made Congress a dysfunctional legislative body and Capitol Hill a hostile workplace.
“One of the reasons why we do not have a functioning civil society in the House,” he said, “is that our efforts are geared toward catering to the individual member instead of focusing on our collective responsibility to govern.”
Boehner argued that on the House side, “the rules are too often manipulated to shut down debate and protect individual members from tough votes.” He was too polite to say so, but the Senate is even worse when it comes to accommodating or indulging its members, at the cost of collective responsibility.
What Boehner called “a cycle of gridlock” afflicts both sides of the Capitol, and has been enabled by both parties, depending on who had the majority. As he was honest enough to admit, the abuses did not start when Pelosi took the gavel, and both sides have been guilty of twisting the rules.
If the margins of control shrink in January, as I think they will, it might well be time to negotiate a truce.
I’d like to see Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leaders take Boehner up on the challenge he has raised, not try to demean it. He said, for example, that rather than stifling debate through the manipulation of rules, “we should open things up and let the battle of ideas help break down the scar tissue between the parties. . . . Let’s let legislators legislate again.”
It would be great if the leaders could engage each other seriously at the start of the next Congress on rules and procedures for doing the nation’s business. There’s no excuse for the House failing to pass a budget resolution, as happened for the first time this year. As Boehner said, it boggles the mind that spending bills for major government departments are lumped together in an indigestible mass.
When large majorities of the nation’s voters voice disdain and distrust for a Congress that is supposed to represent them in writing the laws, it is not just a problem for one party or the other. It is a threat to our system of government.
Boehner was a serious legislator for five years at the start of this decade as chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, before he became a floor leader for his party. His diagnosis of the problems in Congress offers a starting point for a cure. Let’s hope the Democrats respond.
Wingnuts on the Right, Doughnuts on the Left, who criticize Boehner a, lobbyist crony, don’t have a better set of ideas. The 24×7 cable news cycle that agitates and exaggerates fails to examine issues with clarity in order to create a consensus for action. In ten years interest on the debt will be a trillion dollars. Where will the revenue come from? Does the spending decrease come from defense or entitlements? Will the politicians cut their own throats by cutting Medicare? The problem with the government is not the Parties but the people who call themselves legislators, pure and simple.
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Reporters walking into House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office Tuesday morning noticed an open supply cabinet with a tape measure on the shelf.
It was a strange bit of office equipment. Are Democrats so resigned to defeat that they’re expecting Republicans to stop by and take measurements of the majority offices?
They still have their largest majority in decades, but the Democrats have succumbed to paralysis in the closing days of the legislative session. Congress has yet to pass a budget or a single one of the annual spending bills. Plans to spur the economy with tax cuts await action. Senate Democrats, faced with a GOP filibuster, have now punted on immigration reform and repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military. Meanwhile, House Democrats have so little on their schedule that their first vote of the week is coming at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, when Americans are most of the way through their workweeks.
Among the items they’ll consider: H.R. 1545, “Expressing support for designation of the week beginning on the third Monday in September as ‘National Postdoc Appreciation Week.’ ” And: H.R. 4387, naming the building at 100 North Palafox St. in Pensacola, Fla., the “Winston E. Arnow Federal Building.”
“Your schedule,” Linda Scott of PBS remarked to Hoyer at Tuesday morning’s meeting, “looks pretty light.” She asked whether Democrats are “telling you they need to be back home, rather than naming post offices?”
“We always name post offices,” Hoyer replied with irritation. “It’s a worthwhile endeavor to do that, and people really do appreciate it, particularly when it’s their name and their community.”
The Democrats are unable to rally themselves around tax cuts for millions of Americans, and their leader is defending . . . postal namings. In fairness, they’re not just talking about post offices: They’re also talking about flags. “On the floor we’ll have the All-American Flag Act,” announced Hoyer.
Over the past 20 months, Democrats have done a lot — too much, the opposition says. But they don’t want to talk about the achievements. The stimulus bill is unpopular; they’re not getting credit for health-care legislation, financial reforms and many other accomplishments; and the spent majority can’t limp out of town fast enough.
There’s still talk about a “lame duck” session after the election, when Democrats might revive some of their proposals. But the end of the current session is turning out to be just plain lame.
Hoyer, who was scheduled to appear at four fundraisers for embattled Democrats on Tuesday alone, was asked if he plans to bring up any other major bills before the election. He cited three minor ones.
“You didn’t name the tax-cut bill,” somebody pointed out.
“I should have,” he said, but before acting on that, he added, “we’re going to see what the Senate does.”
That’s easy. The Senate, burial ground for hundreds of House bills this session, is, as usual, doing nothing. On Tuesday afternoon, a pair of Democrats, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, joined Republicans in blocking debate on a Pentagon policy bill. That essentially killed the Democrats’ last major legislative effort of the year (the bill also included immigration provisions and an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell”). It left the majority with little on its schedule for the rest of the year other than a stopgap bill to keep the government running for a few more months.
After a couple of speeches denouncing the Republican opposition, Democrats moved on.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) delivered a floor speech celebrating the 114th birthday of the world’s oldest living man.
Given the circumstances, Hoyer was surprisingly cheerful as he greeted reporters Tuesday morning. “You know things are bad when you’re happy to see the press,” he said.
The happiness was short-lived, because Hoyer was soon answering questions about the party’s “death knell.” To defend the Democrats, the majority leader had to employ some inventive math. At one point, he erroneously added up quarterly growth rates, asserting that GDP had seen “almost a 25 percent turnaround from negative to positive.” At another point, he made the impossible claim that from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, “you lost 250 percent of the value of your stock portfolio.”
It just doesn’t add up. “Your members are going to go home with no appropriations bills passed, no budget resolution, record deficits,” David Lightman of McClatchy News noted. “How can they go home and say they did good jobs?”
Hoyer said something about a “302(a) allocation” and “statutory PAYGO.”
“We have a powerful message to send,” Hoyer said, then asked himself: “And what is that message?”
That you named a lot of post offices?
Charles Krauthammer offers this observation about the 111th Congress.
As if this were not enough, Congress adjourned without even a vote — nay, without even a Democratic bill — on the expiring Bush tax cuts. This is the ultimate in incompetence. After 20 months of control of the White House and Congress — during which they passed an elaborate, 1,000-page micromanagement of every detail of American health care — the Democrats adjourned without being able to tell the country what its tax rates will be on Jan. 1.
2:18 AM EDT
I am an Obama supporter. I offer my view from that perspective so that readers don’t think I’m some right-wing hater. I thought the speech fell short. Some commentators said it was “Presidential” and “Struck the Right Notes.” All I could think about was that I’ve been out of work or professionally underemployed for all but nine weeks of his presidency. President Obama didn’t cause the crisis – the wheels were coming off the bus before he was elected. However, I didn’t hear anything suggesting how it would be different. In other words, what is going to change in Congress and with the House that will allow his policy agenda to move forward? I don’t see it. It would have been nice to hear a bit of an indictment against an obstructionist Congress in the same vain as Harry Truman. I don’t believe Romney who seems only to want the job because he sees it as the one accomplishment (a capstone of achievement if you will) that his father could not reach. Ryan is a bald-faced liar who probably doesn’t believe his own rhetoric but sees the campaign as a life-altering experience forever changing his political forturnes. That said, President Obama is the better candidate, but if he doesn’t do a better job of getting more Democrats down-ticket elected and then maintain a right of center governance and party discipline, then nothing will be different and we will have four more years of gridlock.