FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Congress and the Fiscal Cliff

by KARL GROSSMAN

As the new year began, the newspaper Newsday ran an editorial headed “Congress Made This Mess” with a subhead declaring that the “fiscal cliff” is a “metaphor for failure.” It was accompanied by a cartoon depicting the dropping of a ball—labeled “dysfunction—alongside the Capitol Dome.

“So the new year may start off much like the old ended, with an epic failure to govern,” opined Newsday

No matter what may happen about the “fiscal cliff,” the U.S. Congress is now widely seen as deeply dysfunctional.

This past summer, Gallup reported that its polling showed only one-in-10 Americans “approve the job Congress is doing.” This tied, it noted, with the “all-time low” of 10 percent approval in a Gallup poll the year before “as the lowest in Gallup’s 38 year history of this measure. Eight-three percent disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job.”

Much of this has to do with the public perception—an accurate one—that most members of Congress are bought and paid for notably via campaign contributions by special interests.

Indeed, making the rounds of the Internet in recent years has been the posting: “Members of Congress should be compelled to wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers, so we could identify their sponsors.”

And then there’s this repeated posting:

“Now I understand! The English language has some wonderfully anthropomorphic collective nouns for various groups of animals. We are all familiar with a Herd of cows, a Flock of chickens, a Schoolof fish and a Gaggleof geese. However, less widely known is a Pride of lions, a Murder of crows…an Exaltation of doves and, presumably because they look so wise, a Parliament of owls. Now consider a group of baboons. They are the loudest, most dangerous, most obnoxious, most viciously aggressive and least intelligent of all primates. And what is the proper collective noun for a group of baboons?  Believe it or not….a Congress!. I guess that pretty much explains the things that come out of Washington! Look it up. A group of baboons is a congress.”

A very low opinion of the U.S. Congress is not new in America.

Over a century ago, Mark Twain wrote: “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Twain also said that “there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.”

Decades later, Will Rogers said: “The country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.” Milton Berle, yet later, said: “You can lead a man to Congress, but you can’t make him think.”

But now confidence in and respect for Congress has reached a nadir.

And the perception matches reality. For example, the 112th Congress, which ended this week, “is set to go down in American history as the most unproductive session since the 1940s,” wrote Amanda Terkel last week on The Huffington Post. It passed slightly more than 200 bills that became law. This is “far less than the 80th Congress (1947-1948) which President Harry Truman infamously dubbed the “Do-Nothing Congress” which passed 900 bills that became law.”

Part of the problem is what has been termed “congressional stagnation”—a theory holding that the U.S. Congress has become stagnant as a result of the continuous re-election of nearly all of its incumbents.

Indeed, notes the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington: “Few things in life are more predictable than the chances of an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives winning reelection. With wide name recognition, and usually an insurmountable advantage in campaign cash, House incumbents typically have little trouble holding onto their seats.”

Also, making members of Congress ever more the instruments of special interests with money is the ever-skyrocketing cost of campaigns—mainly for political TV commercials.

The Center for Responsive Politics notes that the 2012 election campaign was the “most expensive election in U.S. history”—costing $6 billion. Much of that, more than $2 billion, involved the presidential race. “House and Senate candidates combined will spend about $1.82 billion.”  And “congressional races are being affected by the huge increase in outside spending.”

“In the new campaign finance landscape post-Citizens United, we’re seeing historic spending levels spurred by outside groups dominated by a small number of individuals and organizations making exceptional contributions,” said Sheila Krumholz, director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

As Alex Gibney, maker of the documentary “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” has said, we have “a system of legalized bribery in Washington.”

This reflects directly on the low, low level of Congress doing anything—and, when it does, mainly serving special interests.

Change—major change—is desperately needed!

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

 

 

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail