Invisible Congress

Between record numbers of days off and rarely acting when they are in session, our leaders in D.C. are failing

The “sequester’ is upon us. Uncharted waters. Not gobs of money actually, but willy-nilly cuts without any concern for priorities or fairness or even net cost. (That’s right — cutting government costs money). Expect job losses; loss of business no doubt will follow. In other words, this is no way to run the proverbial railroad of state.

Tea Party Republicans (even our own Cathy McMorris Rodgers) remain adamant — just say no to closing tax loopholes. From the outset, right-wing Republicans have clung to their ideologically limited agenda: more deregulation, no new taxes, more privatization, cuts to discretionary domestic programs, while they want to maintain defense spending at historically high levels.

They prefer “purity” to “compromise” — or, put another way, ideology to politics. The trouble began when they balked at raising the debt ceiling (to pay for what they had already spent). Faced with a national disaster of Congress’ making, President Obama agreed to the sequester. He played what he thought was a bring-them-back-to-reality tactic when he managed to get defense spending thrown into the mix. Surely the party of endless wars wouldn’t risk defense — that’s what the White House assumed. But it seems that Obama’s gambit failed: The Republican House is willing to wade into the world of the arbitrary and the capricious just to avoid finding any new revenue.

And so here we are. In a mess. And the failure lies entirely with the Congress, and mostly with the Republican-led House that refuses to do its job. Every year the Congress must pass three forms of legislation: authorization legislation, appropriation legislation, and revenue or tax legislation. As for the latter, the Constitution is clear: Article I, Section 7 states that all revenue bills will originate in the House of Representatives — not the White House, not the Senate.

So instead of loud anti-Obama chanting on the Capitol steps, why doesn’t the House just do the hard work involved in legislating? You know, holding hearings, working with agencies, authorizing programs, appropriating funding and passing tax bills. Yes, it does involve doing some work, so let’s not hold our breath — this Congress has only worked 23 days since the end of the previous Congress.

We should be appalled at the immorality of sequester. The Congress and president exempted Social Security and Medicare from the cuts. Well, physicians will be paid slightly less, but us geezers, we want “what’s ours.” So, no surprise, those most vulnerable (e.g., the kids) have little voice. Meanwhile, those who have a voice (e.g., the geezers) are privileged.

And beyond the immorality of the deal, we need to be concerned about the stupidity of the entire so-called “debt crisis” — put another way, how the sequester takes the very idea of deliberation and substitutes ideology on steroids. 

It’s a really bad idea. Take the Environmental Protection Agency and its important work. The EPA relies on science to justify its regulations and operates on a comparatively small budget, under $9 billion a year. So any cut will have an impact. Yet would it surprise you to learn that the Congress has no trouble spending by far more each month in Iraq and Afghanistan than it appropriates for the EPA in an entire year?

Now an already strapped EPA will have less money to fund the research necessary to protect the public — and at the exact time that we confront the issue of toxic tar-sands oil being sent dripping across the country.

No doubt the Department of Defense will scream about “hollowing out the military,” but no worry — the sequester cuts in defense won’t jeopardize our apparent need to keep up appearances in the Middle East.

And while all this is going on, and aside from waging this phony war on the debt ceiling (which they wedge in between vacations), what else is our Republican-led House doing? Nothing much, but that’s not surprising, as more than half of the Republicans elected since 2004 came to Washington without even the slightest experience working inside or even around government. Yes, voters elected a crowd of ideologically driven amateurs — and it’s showing.

But after weeks of delay, the House leadership finally did allow a vote on renewing the Violence Against Women Act. The bill passed. McMorris Rodgers eventually voted for the bill, but leading up to that she played the role of token woman sent to announce that “there is no war against women.”

Really? She obviously didn’t read Timothy Egan’s recent New York Times column “Science and Sensibility” (2/28/13). He writes about how Native American women are at particular risk of devastating violence. McMorris Rodgers represents many tribal members here in Eastern Washington.

But there’s that word — “science.” It’s like her party is allergic to it — whether it be the bad math of the sequester, the ignored statistics about violence against women or the science-based protections the EPA is trying to implement. Oh well, at least the Republican House is getting an “A” in one subject — recess. 

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About The Author

Robert Herold

Robert Herold is a retired professor of public administration and political science at both Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Robert Herold's collection of Inlander columns dating back to 1995, Robert's Rules, is available at Auntie's.