Congressional Malpractice

Congress has gone home for the summer, and I’m tempted to consider that a blessing. Like physicians, legislators should be required to take an oath to first and foremost do no harm. But so far this year, it’s been hard to find any healing going on, and malignant intent is everywhere evident.

Last summer, just before the annual recess (does that term suggest elementary school to anyone besides me?) Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein riffed on “14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever.” He was, of course, referring to the 112th—a relatively benign group compared to the 113th, which has surprised all of us— from cynical lefties to the House Speaker—with its unsurpassed venality and self-debasement.

Among other flaws, Klein cited how “They’re not passing laws” (#1), “They’ve set back the recovery,” (#4), and “They’ve lost our credit rating” (#5). The last Congress’s penchant for repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act of 2010 is legendary, but easily surpassed by the current lot.

 

If it were just a matter of not getting much done, it could be the subject for rational analysis such as it received recently from Bloomberg.com with their piece titled “Congress Is on Pace to Do Less Than Record-Breaking Low.” But Republicans in Washington are indeed doing harm. Think of it: the time-release malaise of the Sequester, missing the boat on gun regulation, food stamps in peril, students crushed by free-market interest rates, playing whack-a-mole with Obamacare, and leaving all major appropriations bills for the last week of the fiscal year.

 

In any other profession this would be labeled malpractice. But these guys have no interest in governing. For them it’s about sabotage, and the opportunity to do their worst is waiting just beyond Labor Day.

 

The New York Times summarized where things stand at the moment—which is at the precipice of complete government meltdown when Congress is unable to pass major appropriations bills by October 1 and refuses to raise the debt ceiling in November. Right now House Republicans can’t seem to agree among themselves on how best to play the role of saboteur, but I’m sure something will come to them while nurtured in the bosom of their home districts during August.

 

It’s a matter of itching for a government shutdown but lacking the nerve to commit to the specific spending cuts they would have to stand by. Outrageous cuts to transportation, energy, the environment, health and education became something that divided the Republican caucus between those who foment for smaller budgets when nothing specific is on the chopping block and the true believers who will cut government spending without regard to who’s harmed or what’s broken.

 

A recent Paul Krugman column in the New York Times makes clear the depressing collision of politics and economics in this situation. “The sad truth,” as Krugman puts it, “is that the modern G.O.P. is lost in fantasy, unable to participate in actual governing.”

 

Even sadder is that for the time being—and no one knows how long—we are essentially without a federal government. And in a couple months, that could be more literal than metaphorical.

 

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