Congress has long been the butt of jokes.
Mark Twain once said “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native criminal class except Congress.”
“One of the standing jokes of Congress,” goes another barb, “is that the new congressman always spends the first week wondering how he got there and the rest of the time wondering how the other members got there.”
Even the comics page gets in a dig every once in a while. In Snuffy Smith on Wednesday,
a character laments that the hot air balloon festival had to be postponed because “none of our congressmen could make it home that weekend.”
It’s all very cute and quaint – except that the knocks on Congress these days aren’t so funny anymore. They’re just too true.
Congress, you see, has become the joke.
As the House and Senate adjourned for their five-week August recess, reporters and commentators took note of how sad little our “leaders” in Washington have accomplished.
“Congress managed to get through last year without passing one single piece of significant legislation,” opines CBS’s Bob Schieffer. “It would be hard to do worse than that, but this crowd may actually manage to do it.”
The nation is facing massive tax increases at the end of the year as the Bush-era tax rates expire and Obamacare taxes go into effect. There’s even a name for it: “Taxmageddon.”
“While ‘taxmageddon’ sounds like political hyperbole to stir up emotions around election time,” writes U.S. News and World Report, “tax experts say it’s real, and it’s coming.”
Without congressional action to the contrary, on average taxes will go up $3,800 per family next year. For baby boomers, the average hike in tax bills will be $4,223.
In addition there’s “sequestration” – a Capitol Hill buzzword that means $110 billion in automatic domestic and defense spending cuts that will go into effect in January, again absent congressional action.
Fact is, it was congressional inaction that led to this impending crisis: In an effort to force themselves to cut $1.5 trillion in deficits over 10 years, members of Congress last year decided to form a “super committee” to find the cuts – and if the committee failed, Congress decreed, the cuts would be automatic, blunt and indiscriminate. The committee wasn’t so super, and did fail – and the meat axe is now hanging over the government.
No one wants spending cuts more than we do, but mindless across-the-board slashing is careless and dangerous, particularly to national defense. Obama Defense officials say the cuts would represent a “major step” toward an “unready, hollow” military force that could actually “increase the likelihood of conflict” due to actual and perceived weaknesses in U.S. military readiness.
These are just a few of the many critical issues that Congress has left behind as its members scatter to their states and districts to rest, campaign and explain.
The unresolved tax issues alone are enough to keep the economy stalled, as business owners and consumers wait to see what Congress will ultimately do to their tax liabilities. It’s helping keep economic activity bottled up, as companies are hesitant to invest and hire, and consumers are either out of work or fearful of ending up that way.
Disagreement is natural and inevitable, and not necessarily bad in and of itself. But this Congress has gone light years beyond disagreement to dysfunction. While the nation’s car careens toward a cliff, these clowns are arguing over how much room there is in the trunk.
At this point, they’re waiting to see what voters will decide in November, and everything is on hold until then. Will we opt for members of Congress who seek more government spending and power over our lives, or will we populate Capitol Hill with
citizen legislators who know the government’s place in American society and want to return it there?
Until we tell them, loggerheads will be the order of the day and Congress will essentially be closed for business.
Whether the members are there or not.