Government Gives Up on Basic Tasks

Written by Steve Bell on Tuesday December 6, 2011

All you really need to know about the state of Washington, D.C. are three facts:

A--a majority of Republicans in the Senate defeated a bill to extend the payroll tax holiday that was introduced by their own Senate Minority Leader last week;

B--President Obama has decided that the only real legislative item he wants passed is that very payroll tax holiday--not deficit reduction, not extension of unemployment benefits, not ending the expansion of the Alternative Minimum Tax into the middle class, not preventing a 27 per cent overnight reduction in payments to Medicare providers;

C--Congressional Democrats and Republicans, as well as the White House, still have not approved the basic appropriations bills necessary tokeep the government operating.

To extend what should be extended will cost about $200 billion plus. The President doesn't want to run the risk as a big taxer, so he is watching as Congress wrangles, something that has been thematic about this President--talk and watch.

Congress fears both extending the items that a weak economy needs and not extending them.

This confusion puts the rotten cherry on top of the melted ice cream sundae that has been this session of Congress.

Look back.

The President presents a Fiscal Year 2012 budget plan that is based on false economics, spinkled with promises that he cannot fulfill, and that continues the trillion dollar deficits that will thrust the nation toward the fiscal cliff. Congress, again, cannot pass its basic budget resolution for FY12.

The Congress and the President decide, after the normal panic attacks by commentators, to simply extend FY11 spending into FY12 for most programs.

Fearing that America's voters will begin to decry all of Washington, Obama establishes his own debt commission to make recommendations on how to slow growth to well over 100 per cent of Gross Domestic Product of sovereign debt.

A majority of that commission passes a series of recommendations that, if endorsed by the President and passed by Congress, would make significant improvement in the debt picture.

But, the President turns aside the majority and refuses to endorse his own commission's initiatives.

The President then dispatches Vice President Joe Biden to create a small bi-partisan group to see if that group can agree on any debt plan.

It can't. Re-enter Congress.

Having not dispatched last year's work--and only five months behind on that chore--the policymakers for our federal government decide to play chicken with the national debt. At the last moment, of course, all sides agree to do something original--pass the debt ceiling increase and establish a committee to look at how to slow debt increases.

It is now late August, and the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (JSC) begins its work. Its job is simple--find $1.2 trillion in savings from the estimated $14 trillion in new debt that the federal government will accumulate in the next decade.

The President travels throughout the nation, basically ignoring the debt problem. Over the very weekend the JSC is supposed to issue its package, the President returns from his trip to Bali and other points far away from the nation's capital.

The JSC concedes abject failure.

At this point, the story turns farcical.

"Don't worry," conservatives say. "Automatic cuts will go into effect in January of 2013 and that will save $1.2 trillion despite the JSC failure."

Within less than a month, conservatives say, "Oh, Mr. President, help us get rid of those automatic cuts." House Speaker John Boehner makes a public appeal to Obama to vitiate the sequester of 2013.

Obama politely says, in so many words, "Hey, this is what you guys said you wanted. I certainly won't help you undo your own idea."

Meanwhile, Congress continues to flounder as it fails, once again, to agree on the FY12 appropriaitons bill to fund government operations.

We have now come, chronologically, full circle.

We have also descended into a governing vicious circle, where, disdain, anger and fear dominate the Executive and Legislative Branches.

For three years, Congress and the President have lived in different realms. Obama clearly has little use for his former colleagues in Congress. Indeed, he is making one of his campaign themes opposition to the "do-nothing Congress." The fact that he doesn't differentiate between his own party members in Congress and the GOP stalwarts infuriates his fellow Democrats.

Congress believes that Obama makes good speeches, delivers fanciful budgets, and then heads out of town when the rough work becomes necessary.

Both sides are right.

So now, American sees Washington, D.C., divided almost into tribes. Democratic Senators who want to do something, especially something positive that may help them retain control of the Upper Body next November. Democratic House members who just sit back and watch and hope that Republicans will continue to wander around and confront lower and lower approval ratings. Republican House members, split among those who know what a legislature is supposed to do and those who oppose the very notion of a legislature. And, Republican Senators, also split, between those bound by theological opposition to taxes on billionaires and those who would like to at least give an appearance of governing.

It is this kind of tribal behavior, encouraged by the two party's caucuses in the House and Senate, and the indifference of the President, that now threaten the nation.

Remember that when you hear Congressmen or the President criticize the European Union or the tribal organization of ancient cultures like those in Afghanistan? Obama and Congress are leading us into just into the same archaic and anarchic state.

Wonder what the Founding Fathers would think?