D.C.’s vulnerability tactic – a cry for help?

“I think it comes as no surprise not [only] to the American people, but even [to] members of Congress themselves, that right now things are pretty dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill.”

– President Barack Obama, Tuesday, April 30, 2013, during a White House press conference

It’s very hard to tell, but it seems that the policy branches of our federal government have bared themselves to our anger, disappointment and distrust. They have embraced a recovery program – not an economic plan, but the one that starts with them finally admitting they have a problem.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) says the legislation he co-authored with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) broadening background check rules for gun buyers, failed a recent Senate vote because Congress is “too politicized” and sees cooperation as capitulation.

Members of his own party, he told the editorial board of a Pennsylvania media group, Tuesday, “did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”

Close to ninety percent of the American public wanted to see it get done, too, but despite recent reports of voter backlash against a handful of senators who did not support Manchin-Toomey, many rank and file Republicans, who may have personally supported the legislation, said they do not see the nay vote as something that would threaten their fidelity to the Grand Old Party. “Yes, I believe the Republicans should have voted for background checks, and they should not legalize automatic weapons,” Jim Hensley, a Michigan Republican, told the New York Times, after answering a recent NY Times/CBS News poll about Congressional actions regarding the gun debate, immigration and other national conversations. “I was against the repeal of the ban on automatic weapons, and I don’t support the N.R.A.,” he added, “but it’s like marriage. You stick with your wife no matter what, and you don’t just ditch your political party on one issue.”

President Obama says he already figured that part out. “[T]hey’re worried about their politics,” he said at his press conference, Tuesday. “It’s tough. Their base thinks that compromise with me is somehow a betrayal. They’re worried about primaries.”

On the other side of the Capitol, Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH) and the rest of the GOP leadership are having trouble getting their own caucus to agree on the principles of their priorities, which bare little resemblance to the wide ranging issues the Senate has been dealing with over the past few months. Under the headline, “A House in chaos,” Politico describes the woes of the Lower Chamber this way:

“Speaker John Boehner, [Majority Leader Eric] Cantor and [Majority Whip Kevin] McCarthy are plagued by a conference split into two groups. In one camp are stiff ideologues who didn’t extract any lesson from Mitt Romney’s loss and are only looking to slash spending and defund President Barack Obama’s health care law at every turn. In the other are lawmakers who are aligned with Cantor, who is almost singularly driving an agenda which is zeroed in on family issues.

“Boehner seems more focused on passing big pieces of legislation like hiking the debt ceiling and extending government funding, sometimes drawing flak for having to rely on Democrats to move these bills over the finish line…

“Members of leadership have trouble staying on the same page. Cantor is anxious to move on his agenda, but McCarthy needs to gather support in a House Republican Conference that’s filled with lawmakers constantly divided on leadership’s priorities.”

During his press conference, Tuesday, President Obama bristled (albeit, humorously) when confronted by ABC’s Jonathan Karl, about whether the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun legislation, an issue for which he campaigned hard, and his being forced to sign the piece meal fix to the FAA budget rather than hold out for a broader resolution to the sequester, if those actions meant that the president had lost “the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress.”

“If you put it that way, Jonathan,” responded the president, with more than a little snide sarcasm, “maybe I should just pack up and go home. Golly.”

After explaining that he was confident he could still get a gun bill through, he defended his agreeing to the emergency FAA funding by admitting, “Frankly, I don’t think that if I were to veto, for example, this FAA bill, that that somehow would lead to the broader fix.”

That’s a lesson he has learned after five years of trying to deal with Congress – even when both houses were majority Democrat – that ultimately, it’s the politics of the thing, more than if it is good or bad for the American people, that dictates how Congress will likely vote. But he continues to believe it is possible. He has to. It’s his job.

“[T]he point is that there are common-sense solutions to our problems right now,” he said, concluding his answer to the ABC reporter, “I cannot force Republicans to embrace those common-sense solutions. I can urge them to. I can put pressure on them. I can rally the American people around those common-sense solutions. But ultimately, they, themselves, are going to have to say, ‘we want to do the right thing.'”

So although the constant battling between the White House, the Senate and the House, has gotten them all to recognize the problem, the dysfunction will continue, until they each say they have the political will to “do the right thing.” But political will is not manifested from turning our backs on Obama and Congress. We cannot just say, “Good riddance. F’ them all,” and go and find someone else to love. If we want our national family to work, we have to acknowledge them for their courage to admit their inherent, political narcissism has run amok, and out of our own love for our country, engage with them in an intervention.

There are literally millions of stories about how we are consistently screwed by government inaction, whether you’re a returning, wounded veteran waiting years for a claim, or working one hundred hours a week just to keep your family from going hungry because you aren’t paid a living wage, or you’re trying to keep your parents from being deported, or you’re making sure your kids get a hand up for their early education. These are the stories we need to share with our representatives in Washington, D.C. These are the stories with the power to intervene in their dysfunction. We’re not just doing it to save our Republic. We’re doing it to save ourselves.


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