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.