(As always, this column appears here a week after its newspaper release to accommodate the syndicator)
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SAME OLD CONGRESS — SAME NEW CONGRESS?
BY BOB FRANKEN
There is some good news that will come out of the “fiscal cliff” debacle: The 112th Congress will be history. Forget the 80th one, the infamous “Do Nothing” gang from 1947 and ’48. The crew from 2011 and ’12 will probably be remembered as the “Do Nothing Right” Congress. Instead of solving the nation’s problems, this madcap bunch made things worse, simply unable to comprehend the difference between campaigning and governing.
The fiscal-cliff crisis is just the latest way their simple-minded intransigence has embarrassed the United States. They were actually trying to dig out of the slop hole they created in 2011, when they passed legislation with draconian budget cuts to avert a U.S. default. Not only did they “kick the can down the road,” to use the cliché, but they did it clumsily. Add to the toxic mix the blind unwillingness by the anti-government fanatics to undo the fiscally disastrous Bush tax cuts with a small hike for their wealthy patrons. In total, we were left with a mess and still another disgusting spectacle.
What’s really unfortunate is that the divided Congress represents a divided nation. There is little spirit of accommodation. Yes, the latest polls show that around 70 percent of Americans, give or take, favor political compromise, but we turn right around and vote for those who consider any accommodation whatsoever tantamount to treason.
Is it any wonder we’re stuck in this downward spiral? Far too many of us blew our chance to elect responsible officeholders. So we’re left with feeble efforts like the latest from Starbucks, where the workers are instructed to take their markers and scrawl “Come together” on coffee cups. Like that’s going to work. Maybe we can all get together and belt out “Kumbaya” while we’re at it.
It’s not that Washington will be singing a different tune any time soon. The newly arrived House Republican majority will still be seized by the same obstructionism as that of the dearly departed one. The “cliff” was the brilliant creation of legislative geniuses to agree on a debt-ceiling increase and skirt the trauma of a national default. They passed a bill with a 2013 deadline to come up with budget reductions. Otherwise, it imposed cuts in both Pentagon and domestic programs that were so unthinkable, they would force reason to prevail, and the crippling “sequestration” would be bypassed.
Bad assumption. Even the fact that this craziness coincided with across-the-board tax hikes causing double-dip recession, the inmates still rule the asylum. Once again, they forced us to the brink.
The nightmare is never-ending. Two months from now, we could be back to where we started. If not the prospect of a debilitating default, the drama kings and queens will contrive some crisis. We’re told that the United States has already bumped up against its borrowing limit and that Treasury officials can only come up with the fiscal chicanery to avoid fiscal dishonor till the end of February. Talk about a vicious cycle. Even if we avoid that travesty, the GOP hard-liners, in their zeal to nail President Barack Obama, will look for another opportunity to hold him and the country they claim to love hostage.
They portray themselves as the last hope to avoid eventual insolvency. They’re correct when they point out that we must do something to unburden ourselves from the growing obligation to our creditors, that we can’t exist on borrowed money forever. The question is, How do we shed this albatross? So far, their sledgehammers come down mainly on the poor and most vulnerable, while they jump through hoops to make sure those who can most afford to help out don’t have to.
We’ve heard all that before. The time has come to speak out with a lot more than some Starbucks scrawl. We need to do whatever it takes to make it too uncomfortable for our politicians to squander away this great nation.
© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.