TERRE HAUTE —
The members of Congress ardently resisting the Affordable Care Act emphasize its unpopularity.
Congress, itself, is far less popular.
With a long pause and sigh, Dan Coats — the Republican representing Indiana in the U.S. Senate — fielded the question, “How would you rate the performance of the 113th Congress?”
“Disappointing, in terms of really addressing the major things that need to be done,” Coats said in response, during an interview with the Tribune-Star Editorial Board earlier this month. “But, you know, the country is very divided. And we had an election, and so there are two very different views of what the role of government ought to be at the federal level. And it’s all compounded by the deficit, the numbers.”
Congress’ inability to accomplish anything, other than firmly preserving its division, nears historic levels. Only 24 substantive (or “non-ceremonial”) measures have become law in the 113th Congress, according to Pew Research Center calculations. That’s just five more than the least-productive Congress ever (coincidentally, the 112th) at the same point in its term, and three more than the second-least-productive 107th.
Not surprisingly, just 19 percent of Americans approve of Congress’ job performance, while 76 percent disapprove, according to the latest Gallup poll. By contrast, the Affordable Care Act — better known as Obamacare — is considered a good idea by 31 percent of the public, a bad idea by 44 percent, and a not-sure by 25 percent, as measured by a Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey. A similar Pew-USA Today poll showed 42 percent of Americans approving of Obamacare, and 53 percent disapproving. (Either poll’s numbers would seem like rock-star approval ratings for Congress.)
Of course, a faction of Washington lawmakers believes Congress would receive the public’s whole-hearted embrace if only all senators and reps followed their brand of politics.
America’s issues with Congress are manifesting themselves once again. The Republicans’ hard right — especially in the House, where the GOP holds a majority — is pushing to defund the health-care reform law, even if means a government shutdown, affecting almost every federal agency, a first-of-its-kind default on the USA’s debt, and a damaging blow to the economy’s tenuous recovery. That idea is slightly more popular than Congress, with just 36 percent of respondents in favor of cutting off funds to Obamacare, according to the Kaiser Foundation.
Plenty of Republicans have warned the rigid House GOP group that the shutdown showdown will only hurt the country, and their party. Coats, who wants to see Obamacare repealed, opposes the attempt to force a federal government shutdown if funding isn’t removed from the health-care act before it takes effect Oct. 1. Coats heaped sharp criticism on the president’s signature legislation, its path into law and its flaws, and maintains a desire to see it repealed. Last Monday, Coats introduced legislation to delay Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates until 2015, allowing next year’s mid-term elections to become a referendum on the law. That offers the best possibility for a repeal, Coats said.
The reality, he added, is that President Obama and the Democrat-majority Senate are not going to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Likewise, the law — already enacted in 2010 — includes “mandatory spending” apart from the yearly appropriations process, and would still be implemented and its taxes collected even in the event of a shutdown.
Those are points of reason from an opponent of the law. Of course, millions of Americans support the Affordable Care Act, and others might, too, if they understood it, beyond the political rhetoric. In an essay for cnn.com, Dr. Aaron E. Carroll — professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research — pointed out that funds for public outreach and education on Obamacare were cut by the House. The law, Carroll wrote, “will do more good than harm,” but he also expressed concern that too few Americans understand it — 70 percent know part or nothing about it, according to the Wall Street Journal-NBC poll.
Congress, by repeatedly pushing the country toward one unnecessary crisis after another, including the threat of government shutdown, fuels the problem instead of working and finding compromise to achieve solutions.
Coats offered an observation on the atmosphere of political brinksmanship in Washington, and referenced the government shutdown in a similar congressional standoff in the winter of 1995-96.
“I don’t like the idea of playing political ‘gotcha’ when you have something as impactful or substantive as foreign policy conflicts or something as massive or impactful as the Obamacare act,” Coats said. “It’s a sixth of the economy. Hospitals and providers are making all kinds of adjustments on the basis of this, and I think that’s something you just don’t play politics with. You state your issues in a substantive and a political way, but if you look at the political side, I think [a government shutdown] backfires. It did the last time.”
Americans ultimately decide whether dysfunctional partisanship or compromise serves them better in Congress.
“There’s an irony here,” Coats said, “because I think in both parties, people are going up to members and saying, ‘Why can’t you get together and compromise?’ And then, every attempt that you make to get together and compromise, sometimes the same people come up and say, ‘Why are you working with them?’ So you’re kind of in a lose-lose situation, and sometimes you’re labeled by people in your own party as a so-called RINO — Republican In Name Only, or Democrat In Name Only. So these are some of the challenges. And then there are some who say the Founding Fathers wanted it exactly this way — they wanted you to really not be able to do very much. Let it work itself out, right?”
If the latter option is true, the Founding Fathers can rest peacefully.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
The members of Congress ardently resisting the Affordable Care Act emphasize its unpopularity.
THE OFF SEASON: Go West, old man … there’s a world to see
I am writing this story in the shadows of the Black Hills, nearly spitting distance from the rocky-pink Badlands through which I’ll drive today. My wife and I came here to see things only the American West could show us, and we have not been disappointed in the effort and the miles it took.
FROM THE PRESS BOX: Appeal of World Cup is communal
Columnist explains appeal of World Cup.
MAX JONES: Fathers, sons and the tides of war
The wonderful and poignant stories and tributes the past week about D-Day have been both heartbreaking and uplifting.
MARK BENNETT: Terre Haute: The downtown that can
Two words can refute many of the “can’ts” occasionally uttered about this town.
MIKE LUNSFORD: It’s the true ‘face of spring’
I’d be a liar if I said that I miss the yellow carpet of dandelions that dotted my front yard just a few weeks ago.
MARK BENNETT: The road ahead
An invisible force shield — just like those found in comic books — formed a barrier between us and the edge of that road.
RONN MOTT: The dangers of a melting shelf
According to the scientists who study and know about these things, the west Antarctic ice sheet is melting faster than expected, and the resulting rise in sea levels will change the globe in all parts of the world.
Transformative changes: Five ways to strengthen Terre Haute’s ‘festival park’
Without realizing it, the crowds walking through Fairbanks Park during this week’s Banks of the Wabash Festival are paying tribute to two eras of visionaries.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A face only a mother could love
It is fitting that Mother’s Day comes when it does, for spring is a maternal season, one for new beginnings, for birth and rebirth, for flowering and nurturing and caring.
STATE OF THE STATEHOUSE: Struggling schools look for funding relief
Ball State University economist Michael Hicks had some unwelcome news when he met with leaders of the scenic Ohio River town of Madison last summer, after they asked his advice on growing their community.
ALICIA MORGAN: Today, let’s celebrate the rewards
Mother’s Day is not about mothers at all.
MARK BENNETT: Mother of all missed opportunities
So often, we entrust mothers with so much. They draw duty as mediators when there’s a problem at school, healers when pain hits, and self-sacrificers willing to put the needs of their families ahead of their own. Not perfect, but perfectly equipped, thank God, to be the glue that holds things together. Mother’s Day offers an ideal moment to remember those qualities.
B.J. RILEY: Tooth Fairy’s real; I’ve seen her
As strange as it might sound, I think of the tooth fairy each Mother’s Day.
MARK BENNETT: Low, and OK with it
The little sticker in the upper-left corner of a vehicle’s windshield reminds us — three months in advance — when to get an oil change.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Lasting beauty: Miss Kinsey’s forsythia
It always seems like it’s Sunday when we notice Miss Kinsey’s forsythia. Joanie and I will be driving home from church, most often with our windows down so we can enjoy springtime breezes and smells.
Good weather for big upcoming sports weekend
The forecast is for good weather most of the weekend and that’s good, because the schedule is full for sports fans.
MIKE LUNSFORD: One man’s trash is, well, another man’s trash
Many people are growing weary of ecological doomsdayers, and if so, they are the folks most likely to tell us that Planet Earth isn’t in that bad of a shape, that it can repair itself, that new technologies just around the corner will solve our carbon emissions and greenhouse gases and oil consumption and the ever-growing pile of plastic in which we are drowning.
Max Jones: Marching in place: As political world swings and cycles, Hoosiers remain wary of latest trends
A casual glimpse of recent developments in Indiana politics might suggest Hoosiers are in the throes of an identity crisis.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A book inscribed is surely a book treasured
I don’t think it’s a secret that I value books as one of life’s great joys; “I am, therefore I read,” could be a T-shirt-worthy motto of mine.
MAX JONES: Newspapers can be fun, too; check out Readers’ Choice
Smart and savvy newspaper readers (that’s all of you, of course) know full well that their daily consumption of news and information isn’t an exclusively high-brow pursuit.
MAX JONES: Dawn of new day in local elections
After a year off from the electoral process, counties across Indiana are gearing up for their next exercise in democratic politics, the 2014 primary election.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’
I’ve been thankful this winter for a full propane tank and ample cold cranking amps and school snow-delay days that have kept me off the roads until the sun is up on the most frigid of these mornings.
MAX JONES: Readers and writers — we’ve got lots of them
When people grab their daily newspaper, you can pretty much predict the reading path most will take. Readers have habits, as academic and professional surveys have shown.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Law hits poverty-stricken schools hard
Chuck Brimbury is no-excuses kind of guy.
MAX JONES: Digging for wisdom in Larrison’s lament
Ferocious winter storms have been a rarity in west-central Indiana in recent decades, even though heavy snow or sub-zero stretches of days drop in occasionally to remind us how miserable they can make us.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Plenty of ‘emptiness’ to go around at start of 2014 session
Last Tuesday’s cold start to the 2014 legislative session was warmed by the standing ovation given to House Minority Leader Scott Pelath following his traditional opening day remarks.
MARK BENNETT: The Drunk: Making peace
Terre Haute grew fond of Eugene Debs.
The process took time.
THE OFF SEASON: Seeing the miraculousness of the ordinary
It was just a few nights ago that I announced to my wife that I was headed outside to watch the International Space Station pass overhead.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Lying by the warm radioside
I am writing this piece well before Christmas Eve, although you wouldn’t think that it can be far away by the look of things out my windows tonight.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Meth labs so prevalent, test kits on market for homebuyers
Donetta Held knows how strange the world of methamphetamine is.
- More Columns Headlines
- THE OFF SEASON: Go West, old man … there’s a world to see