A dysfunctional Congress – a national security risk?

This is actually not my question. I was reading an article on the inability of Congress to do much of anything, and the author of the comment noted that Congress is so dysfunctional it is actually a national security risk. The point was in reference to Congress is so busy doing make work on scandals of the month, they are actually forsaking the role to govern various oversight functions. But, I think it goes further than that. I believe Congress’ inability to do anything, even in crisis mode, jeopardizes the health and welfare of the United States.

The smaller VA Health Care Bill which should be celebrated as a bi-partisan effort between Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Jeff Miller was only passed because it funded much less than is needed. It will help immensely, but it is not near enough and they will have to come back next year. It should be noted, Sanders’ earlier legislation for four times as much was not passed in the spring before the problems in Phoenix and elsewhere blew up. Plus, a very small transportation infrastructure band-aid was passed at the eleventh hour before the funding law expired, but it does not address our major infrastructure needs. There are other exceptions of collaboration, but herein lies the problem. These collaborations should not be so newsworthy.

Last night, the House adjourned by passing two bills to address the border crisis which will go nowhere. Conservative columnist David Brooks shared his frustration on PBS Newshour last night saying the Republican party gave up on governance and passed a bill that would look good on Fox News. The bill was passed after a compromise bill fell through the day before. Brooks lamented that Senator Ted Cruz worked with Tea Party Representatives to craft a bill that will go beyond deporting all of the refugee kids without a hearing, but also lead to the deportation of about 500,000 people who are here on work-visas after they expire. Brooks noted the party desperately needs an “anti-Cruz” person to step up and speak about governance.

Never mind, there are votes to pass the bi-partisan, collaborative Senate Immigration bill that was passed last year. Yet, most major bills have passed the House in the past two years with an unusual caucus. The only way for Speaker Boehner to secure passage of needed legislation, with a couple of exceptions, is for some moderate Republicans to join in with the Democrats to get enough votes in a bi-partisan collaboration. This was how the unfortunate government shutdown was ended. This was how Hurricane Sandy relief was passed. This was how the fiscal cliff crisis was resolved and so on.

The Senate is in a much better place as the majority caucus is more unified. Plus, the Senators are subject to state-wide election, so the gerrymandered districts do not affect them like they do Representatives. These Representatives face more strident candidates in primaries, which may determine the winner as they run unopposed in the fall. If a candidate does not have to face someone in an opposing party, then some more zealous ideologues can win and they are less prone to collaboration. So, the Senate can find a higher percentage of collaborators, Senator Cruz withstanding.

So, with this context, our country is not addressing the key issues. And, even when crises come to the forefront, the dysfunction gets in the way of governance. The government shutdown which was harmful to so many and led the President to cancel an Asia-Pacific trip to open markets should not have happened. The country was held hostage by a handful of people and it hurt our country and made us look like stooges in the global community. It took the bi-partisan, collaborative efforts of several female Senators to end the madness and show the men how it should be done. Some of these same Senators are working on a bi-partisan collaboration for a bill to address sexual violence on college campuses, following their successful efforts to refine the legal process on sexual violence in the military. The key words are bi-partisan collaboration.

There are many problems to deal with and neither major party has a license on the solutions. Some folks don’t even understand the problem, so their solutions are off the mark. We also have donors and lobbyists who generally rule the roost and feed some of this lack of understanding through misinformation. To combat this, we can at least get people to the table who will collaborate and hear each other out. And, as I have said in two earlier, recent posts. If an ideological candidate is touting “my way or the highway” this election, as voters, we need to show them the highway.

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8 thoughts on “A dysfunctional Congress – a national security risk?

  1. I wonder how much of this gridlock can be attributed to over-sized egos. It seems everyone want to be a star. Star power is not gained by agreement or compromise but by hyperbole and shouting matches which distract from the heart of the issues.

    • Linda, I believe you are right. Leaders tend to be narcissistic and need continual reinforcement they are right. Cruz went to work immediately grandstanding rather than collaborating, which is one reason he is not well liked by leaders in his own party. The unfortunate government shutdown has as much to do with him as it does the other leaders for not telling him to cease and desist. Sarah Palin wanted to be a rock star more than she did a leader, so she quit as governor (when they started questioning and investigating her regime) and went on Fox. I did not quote David Brooks’ other line, but he used the term “Palinization of the party” not in a positive way.

      On the flip side, I am not a huge fan of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi for similar reasons. Pelosi’s grandstanding caused the financial bailout to be delayed one week, and two more financial institutions (Wachovia and WaMu) failed during that week. They may still have failed, but they may have been saved, as they needed capital. We would be better off without Reid and his mirror image Mitch McConnell, as they tend to grandstand more than is needed. Someone needs to kick both of them in the hind end and tell them to work it out.

      Truth be told, we need stewardship, not grandstanding. Resolving issues is hard, detailed and boring, so real discussion is not conducive to our sound byte TV news. There is an interesting trend in CEOs these days. More and more tend to be more introverted problem solvers rather than extroverted cheerleaders. A good CEO needs a little of both, but in our more complex world, people need to be able to figure things out.

      Thanks for your comments, BTG

      • I couldn’t agree more. I hate to think this, but I think some of the back room deal making that went on in previous decades was better than this ridiculous situation.

      • I agree to an extent. With fewer news sources, they at least were operating off a similar knowledge of the issues. Now, everyone has their own source and much of it comes from lobbyists with a vested interest. However, some of those backroom machinations were pretty ugly. J. Edgar Hoover, Sen. Joe McCarthy are prime examples.

      • Yeah. I know. That’s why I said that with my heart in my throat. But also, many back room deals moved this country forward. Even Richard Nixon was capable of symbiotic back scratching when the times neccesitated it.

      • You are right. LBJ got through some of the greatest and needed civil rights legislation and he was a wheeler dealer. If you watched Lincoln, the same could be said. The ends justified the means, but the means were not pretty. Love the discussion. Thanks for your thoughts, all good ones.

  2. I’m not sure the senate is any less dysfunctional, with the universal requirement of a 60 vote super majority to pass every bill, and McConnell and Reid at each others throats. The Party of No continues in its ways, and the Democrats couldn’t agree on the time of day, so we are stuck with a non-government, with a very weak leader in the White House. Sadly, most states are not in much better shape.

    • Barney. thanks for your observations. I was updating a response to Linda where I reference Reid/ McConnell and our other pal Pelosi. People think having one party in power is the answer, but to highlight your states problems, here in NC the GOP has the Senate, House and Governor’s office. They have passed some inane laws, but what is interesting is the huge amount of infighting that has stalled issues. Last week, The Business Journal took an informal poll of its readers, which tend to be conservative, and 70% gave the NC General Assembly a grade of “F”.

      Thanks for your comments, BTG

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