Congress fails at its primary task: passing bills

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, January 2, 2013

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2012 wasn’t the only thing ticking down to oblivion Monday. So was the public’s patience with our elected officials in Washington.

As of this writing on Monday morning, a deal still had not been reached to avert the so called “fiscal cliff” – the term given to expiring tax cuts and across-the-board government spending cuts, which some have predicted would send our country into another recession.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

I hope by the time you read this, a deal has been reached, and we’ve managed to steer away from the “cliff.”

The fact that our elected officials can’t seem to work together should come as no surprise. It’s been par for the course for the 112th Congress. The Washington Post ran a story over the weekend describing how this Congress has passed fewer bills into law than any Congress in several decades.

“Congress’s inability to solve even the stuff that used to be considered routine in Washington portends trouble for work on broader legislative initiatives like immigration reform or new gun control laws next year, when Republicans will continue to have solid control of the House and the Democrats’ majority in the Senate will expand by two seats,” the Post story stated.

Happy New Year.

Not surprisingly, the story points out, approval ratings for this Congress have been beyond dismal. As this term winds down, Congress leaves with an 18 percent approval rating according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. And that’s up from the 10 percent rating they enjoyed in August – an all-time low.

I watched the excellent movie “Lincoln” Sunday afternoon. Much has been written about the similarities between Lincoln pushing to get the votes from the House of Representatives to pass his 13th Amendment, and the current struggle to avert the fiscal cliff. It’s not a great comparison, since the two issues are vastly different, but what struck me was how the division between the parties – the unwillingness to work together – was nearly the same then as it is now.

So how did the 13th Amendment pass? At least a few representatives had to do something that has become almost a dirty word among many in politics: compromise.

It’s a radical concept, I know. We should stick to our political party’s beliefs and point of view at all times and never waver, right? Ask any married couple how never compromising works for them.

So many times, we hear politicians talk about how their constituents sent them to Washington with a message to (fill in the blank: cut taxes, rein in government spending, expand social programs, etc.). But we almost never hear them speak of another important duty expected of our elected officials: get something done. And how do they do that? Work together. If they speak on that topic, it is almost always to tell us how “the other side” won’t work with them.

The actions of our elected officials in Washington are starting to remind me more and more of my two young children. Both parties seem to have trouble with sharing but are experts at pointing a finger at the other.

I’m thankful our local elected officials (school board and city council members) don’t act this way. Sure, there are often disagreements, but things get done. Somehow, we always get a budget passed by deadline. Sometimes items get cut or tax rates go up. It’s not easy, but it gets done.

And it gets done by people who have full-time jobs, who are only “part-time” elected officials. They don’t even get paid.

I wish our well-paid, full-time politicians would take notice. If not, they may well find themselves looking for other jobs – and they’d have no one to point the finger at but themselves.

Brian Knox is the Messenger’s special project manager.

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