Congress has its most disappointing year ever(Read article summary)
From the spring's budget deal to the failure of the "supercommittee," 2011 was the year that Congress just can't get things done, despite the nation's economic struggles and growing collective anxiety. No wonder the legislative branch is so unpopular.
William B. Plowman/AP/NBC News/File
The Washington Postâ€™s Chris Cillizza stated the obvious in Sundayâ€™s Washington Post:Â â€śCongress is unpopular.â€ťÂ And deservedly so, because as Chris explains (in print but also in a nice video on that web page):
Saying that Congress is unpopular is kind of like saying that water is wet or that big-time college football is corrupt. Itâ€™s so obvious as to be assumed. And yet, in 2011 Congress managed to underperform even the low regard in which the American people hold it.
It wasnâ€™t just that lawmakers didnâ€™t do much in 2011. It was that they didnâ€™t do much in a year in which the economy continued to struggle, the nationâ€™s collective anxiety soared and, for the first time in modern memory, our fiscal foundations seemed genuinely shaky.
The mismatch between the bigness of the countryâ€™s problems and the smallness of Congress drove the institutionâ€™s approval ratings down to used-car-dealer (or even journalist) levels.
Chris goes on to boil down the major failures of Congress this year to three areas:Â (1) the budget â€śdealâ€ť in the spring; (2) the debt-ceiling â€śdebateâ€ť in the summer; and (3) the (not so) â€śsupercommitteeâ€ť in the fall.Â From my perspective, in all three cases: (1) the Obama Administration led by talking about the need for a â€śbalancedâ€ť approach to deficit reduction that would involve both revenue increases and spending cuts (their â€śopening bidâ€ť effectively representing the compromise position they hoped to ultimately reach); (2) Republican leaders took a hard line position (pretty much â€śbullyingâ€ť) on their Grover-mandated â€śno new taxesâ€ť stance; and (3) the Democrats in Congress and the Administration then cried â€śno fair, you mean bullies!â€ťâ€“but ultimately caved in and agreed to spending cuts only.
And now itâ€™s gotten so bad that the two sides canâ€™t even agree on passing a deficit-financed tax cut, the only kind of policy that weâ€™ve seen them have no trouble agreeing on over the past, um, decade or so.Â House Speaker John Boehner explains that the Senate-passed two-month (only) extension of the payroll tax cut does not provide Americans with the kind of â€ścertaintyâ€ť they need.Â Heâ€™s right that the temporary extension is just another installment of kicking the can down the road, but Americans are very used to that kicking of the can.Â I think Americans are more freaked out about the potential that Congress wonâ€™t even manage to kick the canâ€“that theyâ€™ll miss it all together while they bicker for bickering sakeâ€“and weâ€™ll all end up flat on our assets (and the body part that sounds like that).
(Hence, the Charlie Brown cartoon; just substitute â€śfootballâ€ť for â€ścan.â€ť)