FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Congress as Usual

by WINSLOW T. WHEELER

The dysfunctional mess that the world witnessed on Monday as the House of Representatives voted down the $700 billion financial bailout bill was Congress not at its worst but, rather, as it is.

Consider what you saw: The president, secretary of the Treasury, speaker of the House, majority leader of the Senate and minority leaders of the House and Senate all agreed the nation was in real peril, even if “only” of the financial sort. With genuine fear overriding their usually ultrapartisan impulses, they put together a bipartisan proposal that not a single member of Congress who has been a regular on the Sunday morning talk shows tried to oppose. The elite of Washington from both parties, the heart of America’s political establishment, were united.

And they screwed it up. If one is to believe The Washington Post, both the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House knew, or certainly should have known, that the Republicans couldn’t round up enough votes to compensate for defecting Democrats. For reasons no one on Capitol Hill has explained, the House “elite” went ahead with the vote anyway and lost by a not particularly close 205-228 tally. With Wall Street collapsing around their ears, the shocked members then disclosed that they had no backup plan — parliamentary or political — and proceeded to huddle in separate party caucuses to poke about the wreckage. Predictably, Democrats and Republicans alike emerged to point fingers at everyone but themselves.

People who know how to herd cats on Capitol Hill and how to make things happen when they have to are no longer sitting members of Congress. The historically proclaimed “Master of the Senate,” Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), and any of several House speakers who knew how to stand a member in front of an open political grave to get the “right” vote, would be shaking their heads in dismay.

In hindsight, this collapse in leadership was easy to see coming. Having promised to end the war in Iraq if elected speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) showed instead that she was either unwilling or unable to put together a political coalition to keep her word. The U.S. Senate can be described only as a complete shambles. Enacted appropriations bills are as rare as hens’ teeth, and those appropriations that do finally become law require crude parliamentary gimmicks to ensure their passage. Oversight, while feeble in the House, is nonexistent in the Senate. Hearings are platforms for speeches and announcements; witnesses sweating out interrogation by a well-informed questioner are seen only in old news clips.

And now for the bad news: The same crew cobbled together a package that President Bush will eventually sign into law after a Senate “debate,” characterized by staff-scripted speeches and parliamentary maneuvers that avoided real exchanges. And a different sideshow in the House will feature only a temporary show of bipartisanship, the members from both sides hot to get back to finger-pointing and narrowness of spirit.

This crisis will pass. But the bunch that authored it will be back next year. House Republican leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) may not survive a leadership challenge, and other new bodies will populate the House benches and Senate desks after the elections. But nothing will change.

In the face of leaders who don’t lead, the extremes of both parties — that together voted down Monday’s bailout package — will be the ones who are really in charge on Capitol Hill.

It will be a horror show as the spineless political center and the mindless fringes of both parties tackle the issues in 2009. Imagine this bunch trying to fix Washington: repairing the broken economy, enacting sensible legislation to give affordable health care to all citizens, making sense of our tax code, bringing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to reasonable ends, reforming our bloated defense budget and broken military, and helping America survive on favorable terms in a complicated — and not particularly appreciative — world.

The good news is that probably nothing will pass. A dysfunctional Congress surely will lock down the entire system, except for the parts that produce press releases, overheated speeches and blame.

Perversely, this presents a golden opportunity. The absence of courage, ethics and competence on Capitol Hill is a vacuum ready to be filled by the new president. But he will have to demonstrate that he has more of those characteristics than the Capitol Hill collective, which should not be hard.

Recognizing that challenge, both John McCain and Barack Obama have promised reform of — or change in (pick your term) — business as usual in Washington. And yet, all we have so far is talk. Unless one of these two candidates moves to distinguish himself before the elections as someone who can lead Congress and the nation out of this mess, it’s possible that talk is all we will get after Nov. 4, as well.

As our soldiers and Marines on their third and fourth deployments in Iraq say, embrace the suck.

WINSLOW T. WHEELER spent 31 years working on Capitol Hill with senators from both political parties and the Government Accountability Office, specializing in national security affairs. Currently, he directs the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington and is author of The Wastrels of Defense.

 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight.  He spent 31 years working for the Government Accountability Office and both Republican and Democratic Senators on national security issues.

February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail