counter statistics

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mark Kennedy, Explain Yourself

I am usually not inclined to agree with lead editorials in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but their 10/3/06 submission raises some very good questions about the pathetic performance of our current Congress.

Editorial: A sorry year on Capitol Hill
Budget breakdown is symptomatic of Congress' dysfunction.

Most Americans won't have noticed, or cared much, that Congress adjourned last week and left the federal budget in a shambles. Ten of the 12 spending bills that fund annual government operations remain unfinished -- even though the new fiscal year started on Saturday -- and the required budget blueprint for fiscal 2007 never got past the negotiation stage.

But now that incumbents are home and campaigning for reelection, voters should ask about this sorry performance, for these are the symptoms of a dysfunctional and irresponsible Congress.

True, federal agencies will keep functioning even without the appropriations bills, thanks to a "continuing resolution" that lawmakers passed on Friday. But that's no solution. More than a dozen governors, for example, are preparing to cut off health insurance to thousands of children under the State Children's Health Insurance Program because they lack a commitment from Congress for next year's funding. Farmers will finish the fall harvest without knowing the fate of crucial conservation programs next spring.

Worse, Americans will go to the polls without knowing how their representatives would have voted on some of Washington's toughest funding choices on health, education and transportation. Those matters are now left for a "lame duck" November session, where they will be decided, in part, by lawmakers who are no longer accountable to voters.

You can't blame partisan gridlock for this budgetary breakdown. Republicans control both chambers of Congress by solid majorities, and they were working off a budget draft submitted by a Republican president. Nor can you blame a heavy workload. This Congress passed less legislation and held fewer hearings than any in the memory of Washington experts and worked, on average, just two days per week in 2006.

Rather, it reflects ideological rigidity taken to new extremes. As a financial matter, this meant that a GOP majority kept passing tax cuts while waging an expensive war in Iraq -- $2 billion a week -- thus leaving itself with a huge federal deficit and impossible fiscal choices.

As a governance matter, it meant that it spent so much time casting symbolic votes on symbolic issues -- gay marriage, flag-burning, gay marriage again -- that it ran out of time to resolve the issues of the day: immigration policy, entitlement spending, global warming, military modernization, lobbying reform.

Voters should not assume that this is par for the course. A Democratic Congress in the 1980s passed difficult and important changes to Social Security and immigration law. A GOP Congress in the 1990s helped balance the federal budget. Norman Ornstein, a conservative congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, calls this Congress the "broken branch." In the next five weeks voters should be asking how candidates will mend it.

Rep. Kennedy offers scant explanation for his 6 years of Congressional service. He has always been part of a majority caucus that for some reason won't act like a majority. What does he have to say about the low productivity?

Hammering out the details of appropriation bills is one of the basic functions of Congress, and they don't get it done. Why would we want to give one of the culprits a promotion?

Adding Michele Bachmann to this mix will not improve productivity. Look at her almost non-existent record of bills passed in the Minnesota Senate. Give her 24/7 access to C-SPAN cameras, and she'll do her best to totally shut down the US House of Representatives. She made a shambles of the 2004 Legislative session.