Congress sucks. Literally. Progress, governance and any faith Americans put in their legislature has been steadily sucked out and replaced with deep cynicism and distrust…and for good reason.
The use of the filibuster – essentially debating a bill to death – has been used more over the past two years than in all previous Congresses (for those who don’t know, the present Congress is the 113th Congress). Even historically non-controversial bills like infrastructure funding have become bitterly partisan fights. The overall number of bills that have passed is historically low, making the 112th Congress the least productive in American history.
This lack of productivity has also translated into a historically low approval rating; the 112th Congress (2010-2012) had the lowest yearly average of all Congresses, finishing 2012 with a mere 15 percent, according to Gallup. In January of this year – at the start of the 113th Congress – congressional approval was even lower, at 14 percent.
Most of the problem lies in the House of Representatives, where far-right, tea party Republicans have waged war on their very duties to govern since taking office.
Back in 2010, the GOP took control of the House thanks to a poor economy and anti-government fervor fueled by the then-new Tea Party, a faux “grassroots” movement fostered by the billionaire Koch Brothers (“Koch Industries, Inc.”) and conservative media outlets like Fox News.
This brand of conservatism and the Conservative Movement at large see government itself as a problem to be fixed. Safety regulations? That’s repressive to the economy! Returning federal income tax rates to the historically low Clinton tax rates for the wealthy, where taxpayers in the top bracket paid 39.6? It’s a pinko-commie plot to destroy America, or something! Closing tax loopholes that allow large corporations to dodge paying taxes? That will hurt the “job creators!”
This attitude has wreaked havoc on the country. In 2011, America nearly defaulted on its debt after Republicans in the House refused to raise the debt ceiling until the last minute.
This close call shook the economy, which had been steadily improving, and resulted in a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating. The reason for this refusal to budge: Planned Parenthood was receiving federal funding (none of which went toward abortions, by the way).
Congress was barely able to raise the debt ceiling and agree on new tax rates for the wealthy last month. Thanks to pressure from members of their own party, Republicans in the House agreed to raise the debt ceiling…..but only for three months. The Clinton tax rates were restored….but only for those making over $400,000 annually.
The debt ceiling has been raised several dozen times since the 1930s and without controversy. It’s Congress’ way of saying, “We will pay off the debt we have racked up. No problem. On to the next proposed bill.”
During the presidency of George W. Bush, Congress racked up trillions of dollars of debt via large tax cuts and two wars – all unpaid for. When President Obama took office and the far right had a meltdown (“He’s a Kenyan, Marxist, possibly gay, foreign-looking dictator!”) government spending itself became unfathomable and unacceptable.
It should be noted that the private sector is doing well, having added nearly five million new jobs since early 2009. However, the public sector (teachers, police, firefighters, post office workers, etc.) has been devastated. Over 700,000 jobs have been drained from the public sector during the same period of time, a number that could mean the difference between a recovering economy and a healthy economy.
Even the United States Postal Service, set in place as a public good, has suffered from mismanagement and neglect. Later this year, the USPS will end a 150-year-old service and no longer deliver first-class mail on Saturdays. It will rely more on part-time workers rather than full-time employees and it will end overtime pay as a way to cut costs and survive thanks to an unresponsive Congress.
These cuts in public sector jobs are mostly due to an irresponsible Congress that has demanded the cuts above all else. You want to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government running? Cut government jobs and “spending” (public investments) and maybe we’ll talk. The fact that over $200 billion has been cut from the deficit since 2009 means nothing to the House. It isn’t enough for them.
The country cannot function under this extremism and refusal to govern. Americans of many different political persuasions are tired of the stubbornness and grow increasingly annoyed with members of Congress refusing to do their jobs. How can we trust politicians whose view of reality is so warped? Why did we just re-elect many of the same extreme congresspersons back in November?
We’ve been steadily recovering from the Great Recession and the world continues to change daily. We need a legislature that is serious about its responsibilities. We need sensible congressmen and congresswomen who understand the dynamics of compromise and governance. We need November 2014 to be here already.