Partisanship costs billions
Last Friday, the nation learned three things about its Congress.
1) The Democrats blame the Republicans for their unwillingness to compromise.
2) The Republicans blame the Democrats for advocating unacceptable tax hikes and spending levels.
3) Americans learned what this all really means, beneath the spin and the hyper-partisanship:
Our system is broken.
There is simply no other honest explanation for a legislature that has, again and again, bucked the best interest of the people that put it into office. This truth is beyond question.
It will only become more apparent as the pain from the “sequestration” cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 slowly but inevitably bleeds $85 billion annually from some of the government’s key commitments.
Somehow, 14.7 percent of Americans still approve of Congress at-large, according to a Feb. 27 RealClearPolitics poll. Even people in that kind of stupor will feel the sting from this governmental backhanded slap across the face.
College students should be particularly concerned; cuts to federal student loans will result in a tougher financial aid climate.
Pell Grant funding will also tighten, and some people will inevitably be cut out of the system entirely as bureaucrats cut corners to account for fewer resources. The rest of us may find ourselves walking a constant tightrope where all finances must be kept in order as additional educational credit dries up.
Truly, this is one of those “this is gonna hurt” situations where they really mean it. The way we arrived at this unfortunate state of affairs is, however, potentially as much of a solution as it is a part of the problem.
Our presidential system has been a stable and successful one, but it has relied on one generally constamt in American history: The willingness to give up some of what you want in order to get some of the rest, or compromise.
In the years since the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, that resource has seen an almost unprecedented decline.
Almost immediately after he took office, Obama’s opposition in the Congress, in particular Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate minority leader, vowed to block his success, at all costs; to defeat him when he sought re-election.
That inexcusably irresponsible vow produced major obstacles to effective government in Obama’s first two years, and after the 2010 midterms, when Republicans seized control of the House, set the country up for this pattern of crisis after crisis that seems as normal today.
This rut – the combination of bloodletting gamesmanship, untapped political extremism, sensationalist and deceptive media and most of all voter apathy to the country’s plight – has put us in a difficult spot.
It may be time to start over. Our Constitution is a sacred and time-honored document, but its precepts rest on a system of very carefully designed checks and balances that rely for sustenance on a culture that may no longer exist.
At the very least, we need to dispense with some of the most-abused aspects of our system:
– the ability of 41 out of 100 senators to defy, without restriction or oversight, a clear majority of their peers.
– the power of leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives to “kill” important initiatives as they sit in dark, smoke-filled rooms, plotting how to best leverage the welfare of their constituents.
– the unrestrained authority of one house to try to repeal a law dozens of times with the full knowledge that the initiative cannot enjoy support elsewhere, in effect wasting public time and money to score political points.
Outside the box
But why not think out of the box a little? Why do we have to uphold tradition just because it’s tradition?
It’s time to ask these questions and others like them, because with the way things are, you might vote for your congressman or congresswoman, but once in office, that person is far more beholden to his or her party, the people who paid for their campaign and special interest than they are you.
If less than a fifth of the voting public likes the way things are going, and that pattern sustains itself through an election, then it is time to look at how we put our government into office in the first place.