Is Congress a Bunch of Drama Queens?

December 14, 2011 | By Adrianne Fielding | Post a Comment

With all due respect, I’d like to propose that the 112th Congress be renamed the 11th Hour Congress.

According to the latest news reports, both chambers are considering a tentative spending agreement for fiscal year 2012 that was reached on Monday night. The Associated Press notes that if the House votes on the bill on Thursday as expected, the Senate will have to pass it before the current continuing resolution ends at midnight on Friday.  A separate bill to extend payroll tax cuts that will expire at the end of the year — which both parties seem interested in passing — is still the subject of heated debates over how to pay for it, and is being yoked to the pending spending bill.

All of this has left me wondering: why can’t this Congress manage to pass any funding-related legislation without the high drama of a looming deadline that would seriously impact people’s lives — and sometimes, not even in that case (oh hi, supercommittee)? Is it simply the reflection and manifestation of the extreme philosophical differences that exist among the current members? Is it the only way that they can justify the necessary compromises of legislating to their supporters?  Is the political pressure on these elected officials — and their self-interest in being re-elected — really that strong? Or is there more to it than that?

Of course, this isn’t the only Congress that prefers to “run the game clock down,” to use a football metaphor.  Other Congresses have passed continuing resolutions in the face of potential federal government shutdowns.  But with few exceptions, the current Congress seems either unable or unwilling to settle down, push past the impasses and actually get its funding-related business done unless it’s the very last minute.  Given Congress’ proclivity for last-ditch efforts, perhaps it should be renamed the Hail Mary Congress (to continue the metaphor).

It’s been pretty widely reported that Congress’ public approval rating is currently at a barrel-scraping 9 percent.  Gee, do you think its drama-mongering over last-minute funding bills could have anything to do with that?

Is there really no other way for this Congress to get its work done?  Is this democracy at its best?


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