News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Letters

May 24, 2014

Get ready for more of same

I felt a brief surge of hope about Congress a few weeks ago. It was returning from Easter recess, and Capitol Hill was filled with talk about immigration reform, a minimum-wage bill, a spending bill to keep the government operating, and maybe even funding for transportation infrastructure. But, as I said, it was brief.

That’s because the talk turned out to be just that. Immigration reform appears headed nowhere. Likewise, tax reform and budgetary discipline. The minimum-wage increase died in the Senate. Shoring up the Highway Trust Fund, which could go bankrupt at the end of the summer, requires either massive new spending or a hefty rise in the gasoline tax — and Congress, of course, is inclined to do neither. The one step it appears ready to take is to approve a short-term spending bill, and that’s only because no one in either party wants to risk the public outrage that would attend a government shutdown right before an election.

Which is part of the problem. With this year’s congressional elections fast approaching, neither party wants to force its members into tough votes. In fact, neither party even wants to appear to be working with the other one. Republicans in the House talk about Benghazi, boosting charter schools, and Obamacare, and pass bills that have no chance of becoming law. In the Senate, Democrats push an extension of jobless benefits, try to make political hay out of the Republicans’ rejection of the minimum wage, and show little interest in moving bills through to enactment. Listening to them separately, it’s hard to imagine that they inhabit the same country.

This doesn’t seem likely to change as a result of the mid-term elections. Congress will remain evenly divided. Which means that for the next two years at least, the stalemate between Capitol Hill and the White House will probably continue.

As a nation, we face a lot of challenges, yet we’re not addressing them. Comprehensive immigration reform may be “very difficult to achieve,” in the words of one leading Republican senator, but it’s still vitally important. Housing reform, tax reform, trade liberalization, reforming the International Monetary Fund — all need congressional action. So do the nation’s armed services and the Defense Department, which face serious cuts because of sequestration. Climate change isn’t even on the congressional agenda.

Which is why we have the curious sight of local governments trying to deal with a global issue by passing zoning laws and ordinances, in the belief that at least they can do a little bit to address climate change’s impact. Indeed, congressional inaction is spurring states to cancel planned summer bridge- and road-repair projects, and big-city mayors to fill the national power vacuum by going ahead with their own minimum-wage measures, tax increases, and other initiatives designed to legislate where Congress won’t.

Recently, I’ve been listening to what non-incumbent candidates for Congress are saying. Their partisan labels and policy specifics might differ, but not their basic message: that they’re the ones to fix congressional dysfunction, partisanship and polarization, and to get Capitol Hill moving again. Many of them won’t get the chance to put their ideas into action, since incumbents have overwhelming advantages at election time. Even those who do get elected will find, as they always do, that there’s a yawning gap between what seems possible when you’re campaigning and what’s actually possible once you’re elected.

Still, the fact that candidates are talking about fixing Congress means they believe this is what Americans want. If they do well enough in the elections, perhaps incumbent members will notice that the people want Congress to get its act together, and to begin to address seriously our long list of problems.

Let’s hope so, because here’s my fear. Congress is already derided at home as bumbling and ineffective. The perception abroad is even more worrisome: Capitol Hill’s inability to act is seen as a key piece of America’s decline as a superpower. If it turns out that we’ve got several more years of drift and dysfunction ahead of us, then the institution that our founders considered to be the keystone of American democracy risks becoming not part of the solution, but the core of the problem.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Letters
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Ravens' Ray Rice: 'I Made a Huge Mistake' Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus 3 People Killed, Deputies Wounded in NC Shootout House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve Cantor Warns of Instability, Terror in Farewell Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: 16 Killed in Gaza Market Strike LeBron James Sends Apology Treat to Neighbors
NDN Video
Famous Internet Cats Help Big Cause With Viral Video Raw: Obama Gets Hug From Special Olympian Snoop Dogg Narrating Animal Footage Is Perfect Tigers Acquire David Price - @TheBuzzeronFOX Russell Brand Slams Sean Hannity Over Gaza Conflict Segment Chapter Two: Composing for a film in retirement Woman's Dive Goes Terribly Wrong Brian Williams Reports on Daughter Allison Williams' 'Peter Pan' Casting News Did Jimmy Fallon Look Up Heidi Klum's Dress? What Drama? Miranda Kerr Poses Topless Plane crashes in San Diego Costco parking lot Justin Bieber Takes To Instagram To Diss Orlando Bloom You Won't Believe the Celeb Cameos in "Sharknado 2" Pitch Invading Morons Cause Chaos - @TheBuzzeronFOX Orlando Bloom 'Takes a Swing' at Justin Bieber In Ibiza Sadie Doesn't Want Her Brother to Grow Up "Maxim" Hotness! See Jessica Alba's Sizzling Spread Two women barely avoid being hit by train Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber Reportedly Came To Blows In Ibiza
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity