Congress returned from another half-month vacation this week to confront a national job-approval rating wallowing in the low double digits. Hard to understand why it’s that high.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties have slipped into their own brand of do-nothing dysfunction. With the dearth – or death – of political moderates on Capitol Hill, each political party has strutted into its own distant ideological corner to utter daily talking points in order to rally its fervent faithful to no end whatsoever, fundraising aside.
This may have been understandable when Congress and the executive branch were controlled by separate parties with no incentive to get together and (whispering) “compromise” to earn their salaries of 172 grand a year.
For nearly a decade now voters across the country have been edging toward giving Republicans the ignition keys to virtually everything – 33 governor’s offices, two-thirds of state legislative chambers, both houses of Congress and now the White House. Under President Barack Obama’s me-first leadership, his party lost nearly 1,000 local seats.
Understandably, impatient voters have an expectation that now, finally, some changes will get done in D.C. to fix health care, cut waste, reduce regulations, spur the economy, restore the military, overhaul taxes and – here’s a novel idea – pass an actual budget with an eye beyond, say, the next 180 days.
Yes, the Senate did confirm a Supreme Court nominee to end a yearlong vacancy. But only after weeks of kabuki-like partisan maneuvering that forced GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to kill an arcane rule requiring 60 yea votes. Good riddance!
And health care? For years Republicans jabbered about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. They had some three dozen pro forma House votes to do just that. Now they have a GOP president with a pen who ran on the same thing.
But they couldn’t do it. With minority Democrats watching in delight, a watered-down Republican R&R plan ran aground on its own members’ ideological rifts, even with intense presidential coaxing.
Turns out, the majority party is really a collection of stubborn factions putting professed principles over actual governing. Not the lasting image of a GOP action plan promised last year. Nor one that can endure long.
Now we are led to believe a new repeal plan is almost ready. It’s just not quite all written down yet. Yeah, right. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.
Oh, and a government shutdown looms at month’s end unless, first, Republicans and then perhaps some Democrats can agree on what should be in the budget. Realize, this “plan” is just good through September. Then, the theater, the posturing, the principled pontificating begin again.
Tax changes that could goose an economy that appears to be sputtering again? Well, folks, that reveals similar ideological rifts within Lincoln’s party. Oh, and its tax cuts were built upon savings from the Obamacare repeal that didn’t happen yet. Maybe next year.
At least we can agree on national defense, which protects everyone, right? Uh, no. Some Republicans don’t think the proposed spending hike is large enough. Democrats want a matching hike in domestic spending. Meanwhile, too much military equipment is grounded for unaffordable spare parts.
Good thing there are no brewing foreign crises that might require a military defense.
Speaking of Democrats, their congressional leadership consists of shortsighted septuagenarians from the coasts. Their state-level political farm teams in the heartland have been devastated by Republican successes. If those are not overturned in next year’s midterms, the GOP will again control redistricting after the 2020 census.
The Dems’ current hero is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a socialist who denounces the wealthy while owning three homes and isn’t even a Democrat. On a so-called unity tour this month with party chairs, Sanders reminded crowds of that. He was cheered. Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez was booed. Deputy Chairman Rep. Keith Ellison blamed November’s upset loss partly on Obama.
In some respects political parties reflect their constituencies. There’s no doubt American society is riven too with numerous fractures. But no one forced these politicians to run. They volunteered for leadership. The hope is that their collective efforts, fueled by wisdom, a dollop of courage and compromise, lead to a roughly united 50 states of America.
A democracy like ours requires a chief executive with vision and leadership and two functioning political parties to compete, to push, to challenge and to balance the other with energy and better ideas. We don’t have that now.
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.