Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fixing Congress

Janet Hook has an interesting analytical piece in today's Los Angeles Times. Her thesis is that President Obama will have a hard time getting his programs passed by Congress because the Democrats still don't have enough of a majority to by-pass Republican filibusters and because the Congress is still driven by a partisan and regional ethos. Her analysis is, for the most part, sound.

The collapse of legislation to bail out the U.S. auto industry is a fitting end to this year in Congress -- and a warning to President-elect Barack Obama that even larger Democratic majorities next year won't guarantee smooth sailing for his ambitious agenda on economics and other issues.

Polarized, beset by crises, and preoccupied with ideological and regional politics, this Congress followed a pattern all too familiar in the past decade. It railed and wrangled over the nation's toughest problems, but in the end failed to advance solutions. ...

Congress' response will surely have to be bipartisan, analysts say, but there is no consensus about what the federal government should do. And Congress will continue to be driven by many of the political dynamics that Obama campaigned against: reflexive partisanship and parochialism that make it hard to solve fundamental problems.

Democrats next year will have a larger but still narrow majority in the Senate. There is no guarantee that Republicans cannot block Obama's initiatives with filibusters.

It is that last paragraph which I think might hold one of the keys to overcoming the paralysis that Congress seems to enjoy so very much. Here are a few more clues, although Ms. Hook doesn't seem to be aware of them:

The political fundamentals of how Congress works are timeless and bipartisan. Most lawmakers are driven first by their instinct for electoral survival. They lard urgent legislation -- like the economic stimulus bill Obama wants to pass early next year -- with local projects that help them win support back home rather than advance long-term needs.

Congress also tends to be reactive, rather than anticipate problems. That is why Capitol Hill fiddled until the country's economic problems burned like Rome -- for people who lost their homes in foreclosure, workers who lost their jobs in record numbers, and Wall Street firms on the brink of bankruptcy.

It is clear that current Democratic leadership is uncomfortable with the threat of filibusters. Why else would Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid back down on the auto bailout bill? That means Democratic leadership in Congress is part of the problem and should be replaced if they can't get with the program.

Why not let the recalcitrant yahoos more interested in business interests than national interests babble on for hours on end? Why didn't Reid call the GOP's bluff and announce to the nation that for Christmas the Republicans have decided to give the nation more unemployment and more economic misery for the sole purpose of bashing organized labor? At that point, we all could have sat back while the country watched the Republicans read from the Bible rather than get down to the nation's urgent business. Sooner or later, even the dimmest bulb in the GOP would recall the lessons from the last time that party shut down the government, and if they didn't, I'm sure former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich could remind them. Apparently this kind of strategic thinking is beyond Mr. Reid.

The stick doesn't have to be the only weapon wielded by the leadership, however. As Ms. Hook correctly pointed out, bringing home the pork is an important goal for congress critters because it gets them re-elected. Ironically, now is the time for that kind of pork because it is so desperately needed all across the nation. There isn't a state in the union which isn't crying out for stimulus funds for, among other things, repairing infrastructure. President Elect Obama has already made it clear that such a package is going to be one of his first proposals. There's nothing inherently wrong with the horse-trading that goes on in Congress, and here's the ideal space for it. Surely both Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have figured that out, haven't they?

If they haven't, and if they still don't have the generative organs and the spine to push through the legislation we need to get the country back on track, then we need new leadership. Barack Obama has indicated that he is perfectly willing to go directly to the people to get things done, and he has the data base to do so. If enough of us are willing to take the next step and to loudly hold Congress accountable, a new leadership can be forced into doing what we elected them to do.

And that, my friends, is change we can all believe in.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw reid giving his speech villifying the repubs over the auto bail-out. He actually seemed to crack up (as in chuckles) as he was bringing out the Tiny Tim card of no Santa for the auto workers. These malicious bastards didn't want a veto-proof majority, that would mean they actually would have to do something for the public. They just used that ruse to solicit $$ from all of us before the elections. If they wanted to get 60 seats, B.O. would have gone to Georgia, in addiditon to Al Gore and the Clenis.
This whole filibuster thing is a big charade, there are no filibusters, just a perverse dance to run the clock out on the American public.

8:09 AM  

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