No doubt who’s responsible for the crisis, until there is

“The American people expect in Washington, when we have a crisis like this, that the leaders will sit down and have a conversation.”
– House Speaker John Boehner, Sunday, on ABC’c This Week with George Stephanopoulos

Really, Mr. Speaker? That may be true if it were a crisis caused by uncontrollable or unforeseen forces, but this is a crisis you created, by allowing a small number of stubborn, unfit-to-govern conservatives to push you into holding the government hostage over your party’s profound dislike for President Obama and his signature healthcare law.

Polls show sixty-five percent of the American people, including half of the ones who identify themselves as Republicans (a group which has lost considerable support since the 2012 election), are overwhelmingly against Congress using its power to control government funding as leverage against the Affordable Care Act. There’s no doubt who the American people see as being responsible for this crisis, Mr. Boehner – you and the Republican led House of Representatives.

U.S. President is greeted by Speaker BoehnerYet the latest GOP proposal, revealed Thursday, to lift the debt ceiling for only six weeks, still precludes resolving the ten-day-old government shutdown without talking to the White House and Senate Democrats about making changes to Obamacare, and other GOP budgetary pet peeves. Boehner calls it “a good faith effort on our part to move halfway, halfway to what [President Obama has] demanded.”

Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the White House daily briefing, Thursday, the president still insists keeping government agencies shuttered on the condition of agreeing to cuts to the Affordable Care Act and entitlement programs, and changing the tax code, amounts to paying a “ransom in exchange for the Republicans in the House doing their job,” something Obama has, so far, said he will not abide.

There is a political trap in Speaker Boehner’s “good faith” proposal, for Democrats, and it’s one based on what many Americans may understand about what’s going on in Washington, right now. Although we would all prefer to think otherwise, there’s a good chance the American people do not, for the most part, understand the difference between the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. To them, the distinction between the two is wonky nuance (even though they are completely different things), and they’ll assume that with the GOP offer, Boehner’s “crisis” is over.

After all, part of the DC cacophony the last two weeks has been the Senate Democrats screaming that they have been calling for a conference for months to reconcile, in “regular order,” their own budget, which they passed earlier this year, with the bill passed by the Republican House around the same time. If President Obama insists he will not sit down with Republicans to discuss changes to the budget until there’s a continuing resolution, it could be that people will then view Obama and the Democrats as being the chief obstructionists, and shift the blame to them.

According to Politico’s report of Thursday night’s White House meeting between Obama and Republican House members to discuss Boehner’s proposal, that may be the only way the GOP has to claw its way out of the corner in which it has painted itself:

“House Republicans told Obama at the White House that they could reopen the federal government by early next week if the president and Senate Democrats agree to their debt-ceiling proposal. After the debt ceiling is lifted, a House GOP aide said they would seek some additional concessions in a government funding bill.

“Obama repeatedly pressed House Republicans to open the government, asking them ‘what’s it going to take to’ end the shutdown, those sources said. The meeting was described by both sides as cordial but inconclusive.”

Read that as “no change,” except that even House Republicans are trying to find a way out of the disapproval of the majority of Americans.

To be sure, some of the more reasonable voices are the ones getting the least attention in this mess, and I don’t mean those, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who see repealing the ACA’s medical device tax as a way toward compromise. (That’s not reasonableness; that’s pimping your vote for an industry.) Still, at least they see the value of trying to find a solution to the shutdown as well as raising the debt ceiling.

“I’d like to do both,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters. “I don’t think we’re serving any policy or political goals by keeping the government shut down.”

The Senate has already passed a non-binding resolution that would require budgets be passed on a biennial basis, in odd number years, so they avoid election year grandstanding. Yes, 2013 is an odd number year, and there is definitely some grandstanding going on, but that’s because no budget has passed both Houses of Congress in years. The Republican sponsor of the Senate proposal, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), calls this inevitable quagmire a “conundrum.”

“It’s the right way to do business and it ends the necessity of having continuing resolutions at the last minute because you didn’t do our job,” he said. “Let’s face it: We’re here today in the conundrum we’re in because we did not do our jobs.” At least some Senate Republicans don’t have trouble finding agreement with the president. Now, if they can only convince their comrades in the House to do their own job.



To be in the conversation, be part of the conversation

That could really be the mantra of the transition from Obama’s very public, bully pulpit tactic of campaign style events, highlighting the issues he wants the American people to help him see through, to his new, private “charm offensive,” a series of dinner and lunch meetings with Republican Senators and Representatives aimed at getting past the immovable conversation in Washington, DC.

As recently as a month ago, during the State of the Union address, the president made clear his conviction that “it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.”

His actions show that he believes in us that much, and if he could have asked for that commitment from all of us that night, right then and there, without rhetorical flourish, in a way that would have had us all on our feet, saying, “Yes, Mr. President, I will stand with you, march with you and fight with you,” maybe he would have us believing it, too.

But this latest outreach to Congress makes it seem as though the president has given up on getting any broad, mobilized consensus from the populace. He has resigned himself to the realization that the ground war for the issues we believed in enough to fight for in 2012, has delivered a ball into his court, and no matter how many times he serves it to us over the net, begging us to stay in the game, we return it to him weakly. The ball that just dies at his feet. He can’t do anything with it.

He sighs, slumps his shoulders, then, looking up, shakes his head and walks away. “I was counting on you,” he mumbles under his breath.

“That was your first mistake,” we say, matter-of-factly. Well, we may not actually say it, but we’re probably thinking it, as we pack our rackets away and go home to watch the news.

Now, after a winter of can kicking, ass sitting and nit picking, a small number of Republican Congressional leaders of relative character, comfortable with the level of political risk involved in participating in a dialogue with the president, are thrilled that the president has “finally” come to talk with them. Allowing our power to be bypassed in this way means legislative items we didn’t even want to be on the table are sure to be wrangled over, and things that we wanted to be on the table may not even make it out of their respective Congressional committees.

The Republicans in Congress are notorious for saying, “The American people want this. The American people want that,” when poll after poll shows that the party of the House majority has no clue what the American people want. They only know what the one-percenters want, and they will not deign to acquiesce to the needs of the rest of us because we are not the god they serve. We don’t have his capital. Just ask the people still trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

But we still have a voice and a vote. The beautiful thing about our politics is that it’s never too late to change things. It’s never too late to get into the game. We can still call our Representatives and Senators. We always have a voice.

You don’t have to pick up the sword for every political battle, but for goodness’ sake, find something you believe in, dig into the depth of your conviction, and fight for it! If you don’t have the kind of country you love, it’s not just the politicians’ fault. They’re willing to change, if you’re willing to ask them.

So I’ll see you on the court. I’ll be the one practicing my lobs. Even if my favorite pols end up hitting it into the net, at least they’ll know I’m there, ready to give them another try.


Winners! See what happens when you give the president a shot he can handle?(Photo credit:
(Photo credit:

Shocker: Government shirks responsibility, again

“The deal approved today is truly a missed opportunity to do something big to reduce our long-term fiscal problems…”
– from a statement released Tuesday, by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of a bipartisan deficit reduction committee

If you don’t stand broadly and shoulder the responsibilities of governing, there should be no surprise when the house of cards you’ve tried to build over the last two years comes crashing down around you. That’s what happened over New Year’s Day, when the Senate, and then the House, passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill that mitigated the effects of the final sunset (thank God) of the Bush tax cuts.

As a solution to the so called “fiscal cliff,” the Senate version of a  revamped House bill falls short of averting every slippery rock on the way to the economic edge, but it was the only lifeline of agreement left after Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), turned down the president’s offer of early December, refusing to take the same tack with his caucus that he essentially was forced to take Tuesday night. Since he dropped the ball the White House handed him, Boehner had to make do with the cold, meatless bone of a compromise worked out between Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Vice President Joe Biden. Abandoning the standing “majority of the majority” principle that has been a guidepost for Republicans for the last dozen years, Boehner allowed his caucus to vote against itself by nearly two-to-one.

With the flack that he has taken for that vote, don’t expect him to walk a similar line in two months, when the just delayed automatic cuts to defense and entitlements set up in 2011, known as the “sequester,” are now due to kick in. The conservative GOP is already salivating at the cuts they can make while risking the country’s credit rating, when the debt ceiling needs to be raised again, around the same time as the sequester is triggered. “We Republicans need to be willing to tolerate a temporary, partial government shutdown,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), telling MSNBC’s Morning Joe that the delayed sequester and debt ceiling provided an “opportunity” for the Grand Old Party.

“That’s a debate the American people want,” McConnell said in a statement about the pending spending cut negotiations, ignoring the results of an election with net gains by Democrats, that had more to say about what the “American people” really want. “It’s the debate we’ll have next. And it’s a debate Republicans are ready for.” Well, good for them.

The spending curbs that dissenting Republicans complained about being absent from the New Year’s Day vote would have been part of the larger deal, if Boehner would have had the guts to bring Obama’s proposal forward, instead of his ill fated, ill advised, Plan B. It is possible that he brought Plan B out, just to demonstrate to the White House, and the country, how little control he actually has of his fellow Republicans.

Some in his caucus seemed to regret their fight against Boehner’s push for a one million dollar tax threshold, that was contained in the earlier legislation. Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) reportedly told fellow Republicans, Tuesday, that “we harmed ourselves by undercutting our leader on Plan B,” according to a Politico unnamed source.

The only reason the Speaker went ahead with Tuesday’s vote was that he knew that the legislative body he supposedly runs, and perhaps, more importantly, his party, would have borne the brunt of the outrage from the American public, had the fall from the cliff  landed on the backs of the middle class.

There has been, and will be, a lot of rhetoric on this, between now and the end of 2013, but the most consistently precise description of the way our government’s legislative process works, or doesn’t, came from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) during Tuesday’s House debate on the Senate bill. “This agreement,” he said, “represents absolutely the least we could have done under these circumstances and tragically institutionalizes for the next Congress the madness of short-term frenzy around artificial deadlines that drives the American public crazy.”

As the nation welcomes the 113th Congress to the Capitol, does it make us crazy for believing that maybe they can stop the insanity, where legislators care enough to do the least, when the most is at stake? After the failure of John Boehner to get his Plan B to a vote, last week, he famously got up and recited the Serenity Prayer, girding himself to accept the things he cannot change. I wonder if the Speaker will give a copy of that affirmation to the freshmen representatives. Maybe that’s the only way to get through a term, and keep one’s mind intact while abdicating responsibility, trust and integrity.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”


Lack of Cliff deal links to lack of fortitude in Congress

“New Year’s Eve is fast approaching, and for decades and decades, the American people have watched the ball drop in Times Square. But this year, Mr. President, the American people are waiting for the ball to drop, but it’s not going to be a good drop.”
– Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), in a floor speech, Thursday, about our government’s inability to pick up the ball on the so-called ‘Fiscal Cliff’

It’s been awhile since Congress had any fortitude, when it comes to passing important legislation. It’s as if there were a fear of herniating themselves if they do too much heavy lifting during a term. Even Obamacare had to be cobbled together and shoehorned through because our elected representatives were afraid of the backlash from conservative, big money backers, and the throngs of screaming hayseeds they sponsored.

In both chambers, the lack of ability to think outside of the reelect-me box has frightened enough Senators and Representatives that the halls of the U.S. Capitol echo with the shrill voices of reactionaries and obstructionists, screaming about minutia and ignoring the hard work at hand. They’ve entrusted their convictions to the monied special interests and angry extremists, who promised to carry the ball for the reelection campaign, as their share of the exchange – a Devil’s deal for the nation’s soul, to be sure.

Many legislators, with a history of putting their strong beliefs on the table and compromising across the aisle, decided they would rather quit than be stained by having been a member of Congress during some of its most contentiously uncompromising terms.

screwdriver-worksWitness Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner’s reaction to the difficulty of the situation. Obsessed with the notion of having the votes of a majority of the House GOP majority for a Fiscal Cliff deal, with the end nigh, and narrowing space between his offer and that of the White House, the frightened and ineffective Boehner pulled back, and wasted five days on Plan Bullshit, before sending the House home for Christmas. Those who promised him they would pick up the ball he drops are telling him that this is a winning strategy, politically. They must be the same people who kept assuring Romney campaign that they were going to win the election.

As Rick Ungar wrote, in Forbes magazine, after Boehner’s failed Plan B vote:

“The entire ploy was nothing more than pretend legislation designed to embarrass Obama into offering up more cuts in the Plan A negotiations.”

Extremists in both parties cheer and rally for their respective sides to hold tightly to their “convictions.” They call it a true measure of power, and it may be, for even something as small as a dropped screwdriver can shut down a factory and keep it from being productive. But it doesn’t even rattle the scale when it comes to measuring good governing, putting the interest of the nation above that of a few wealthy men and entrenched industry lobbyists. Besides, it seems to me that if you’re the one who dropped the screwdriver, it’s not the screwdriver who gets fired. It’s you.


Fiscal cliff compromise a wolf in elephant’s clothing

Here we go again. The Republicans are skipping down the path toward obstructionism, aiming to get away with doing the least by convincing us it is the most they can do. It isn’t. They will give it another sham title like “Tax Reform.” It won’t be. They’re saying it will increase significant revenue by being “fair” to the middle class and the “job creators.” It won’t, and it isn’t.

“The math tends not to work,” said President Obama, at his first post-election press conference, last Wednesday. While he agreed with recent statements by Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), that “there are loopholes that can be closed, and we should look at how we can make the process of deductions, the filing process easier, simpler,” the president added, “what I’m not going to do is to extend further a tax cut for folks who don’t need it, which would cost close to a trillion dollars.”

By focusing only on closing loopholes and changing the tax code, the Republicans are actually taking aim at middle class households. The top two percent aren’t the only ones who benefit from deductions. Eliminating dividend tax breaks affects retirees. Eliminating mortgage interest deductions affects anyone with a house note. It seems that Boehner and company are trying to create a groundswell of opposition to tax reform by the middle class, by creating an image of government as a pack of hungry wolves coming for their financial futures.

That’s why House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, on ABC, Sunday, that what Boehner seems to be proposing “is not enough” and is “a formula and a blueprint for hampering our future. You cannot go forward — you have to cut some investments. If you cut too many, you’re hampering growth, you’re hampering education, our investments for the future.”

Tax rates must rise for the upper two percent, she insisted, agreeing with the president “that the higher income people have to pay their fair share.”

So before we applaud Boehner and company’s “compromise,” before any Democrat agrees that the majority is being reasonable here, keep in mind that this is another cold hearted, half-assed attempt by Republicans to agree to something that is bad for the middle class, hoping that the blood from the teeth of the snarling hounds they are willing to let loose on the flesh of the American people will wash back up against the Democrats and President Obama.

The good thing is, that although the Republicans hold the drooling pack of their misguided, predatory policy wolves by the leash, disguising them as a herd of peaceful pachyderms, we man the gate, and it is up to us, as Americans, to recognize this obfuscation for what it is – the foaming, growling snouts of political gamesmanship – and keep the door closed tightly against them until we are certain that their goals are noble, their motives sincere, and that they don’t hold a dagger behind their back.

Most of us would prefer Republicans in Congress set aside their whoring instinct, the penchant they have for rolling on their collective back like a spoiled dog begging to get its belly rubbed by special interests like ALEC, Wall Street and the US Chamber of Commerce, then popping back up barking and growling at the rest of Washington as if policy were a bloodsport. They engage in a process of glad-handing and grandstanding which results in the narrowest of achievements – making an uneducated and uninformed base happy. But as we found out earlier this month, the country is more than the GOP base – about five percentage points more.

It also turns out that despite Republicans retaining control of the House, they actually lost to Democrats in total votes cast for Representatives in the 435 member body, by one million. According to press reports, 55 million Americans voted for a Representative from the Republican party, and 56 million voted for a Democrat. That is borne out, of course, in the president’s party gaining eight seats. Only redistricting in predominantly Republican led state legislatures kept it from being a Congressional power shift.

This is where the country is going, and we cannot just roll over, post election, and take a nap. We must stay vigilant, insist the men and women in Congress who represent us stand up for the middle class, and against those who see folks who need help as envious, lazy takers who want to start a class war and take the aristocracy to the guillotine. We just want our country to work for everybody, and we think it’s okay to pay taxes so our elected representatives make that happen. And according to the election results in the six richest counties in the country, it appears the wealthy think it’s okay to pay more taxes, too.


For Obama, it’s really always been about unity

From VOA - Obama Victory Celebration, Chicago 11-7-2012
President Obama, Vice President Biden and their families celebrate their reelection, in Chicago, early Wednesday morning.
(From Voice of America video)

If there was ever a question about which commitment President Barack Obama has made in his life that will live beyond his presidency, it is his stubborn belief that a united America, without the distraction of division, can and will accomplish great things. Regardless of whether he is able to reach effective but difficult compromises with the Republican led House of Representatives over the next two to four years, he will always be remembered for the clarion call for unity he sounded in his 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention. He doubled down on that plea early Wednesday morning, when, in victory, he addressed thousands of supporters in Chicago.

“I believe we can seize this future together,” he said, “because we are not as divided as our politics suggest; we’re not as cynical as the pundits believe; we are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions; and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states.  We are, and forever will be, the United States of America.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can take the stage and argue with the White House and the Senate majority over revenues and deficits and the fiscal cliff, but in the face of a voting public hungry for Washington to set aside its differences, it makes them and their caucuses seem small and petulant, mice in the face of the human sized task of serious governance. It is a task the president seems ready for.

Indeed, while many argue that the closeness of this election does not deserve the mandate moniker, when one looks at the gains and losses in Congress, there were more seats picked up in both houses by Democrats than by Republicans. Among the GOP casualties, Tea Party firebrands Allen West (R-FL) and Joe Walsh (R-IL) lost their races, and even the arch-conservative, former presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) barely survived her contest. It could be argued that were it not for Congressional redistricting by Republican led state houses across the country, the Democrats would have had an even bigger night.

Yet Speaker Boehner insists that nothing has changed. After the House victories, Tuesday night, he declared that returning the GOP majority to the Congressional body was a statement from voters. “The American people want solutions — and tonight, they’ve responded by renewing our House Republican majority,” he told supporters. “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.”

Even at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, which many characterized as conciliatory, Boehner only referred to agreeing to revenue increases in the context of them being a benefit of tax reform – closing loopholes, simplification, etc. “By working together and creating a fairer, simpler, cleaner tax code, we can give our country a stronger, healthier economy,” he said. “A stronger economy means more revenue, which is what the president seeks. [W]e are willing to accept some additional revenues, via tax reform.”

And, he reiterated, “Feeding the growth of government through higher tax rates won’t help us solve the problem.”

McConnell similarly declined to embrace the results of the election, and the failure of his party to retake control of the Senate, as anything more than a chance for the president to “finish the job.” In a statement reminiscent of his “legislative realities” trope of 2010, he challenged Obama “to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a closely divided Senate, step up to the plate on the challenges of the moment, and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office.

“To the extent he wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we’ll be there to meet him half way.”

Of course they will, if that center is farther right than the president is willing to go. Hey, Mitch. Here’s a “legislative reality” for you – when you woke up this morning, you still weren’t Majority Leader. Here’s another one – President Obama doesn’t have to agree to anything that renews all the Bush tax cuts, and it doesn’t happen unless he signs it. He could, as many have suggested, just let them expire for everyone, and only sign a bill after the beginning of the year that retroactively cuts taxes to the 98% of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year.

I don’t think it will go down that way, but it could.

See, for Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Speaker Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), the only unity they care about is the one that keeps their obstructionist bulwark strong. It never has been about unity. It’s always been about power.

That’s why people believe the president more than the Congressional leaders across the aisle. They believe him when he says, “I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. We’ve got more work to do.

“The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote.  America has never been about what can be done for us.  It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.  That’s the principle we were founded on.”

So if you really care about our government, the president is saying, stay involved. That unity of purpose is our bulwark. We are, after all, a nation of and by the people, that works together for the people – all the people. If we can coalesce this much diversity to elect one man to the presidency, we are capable of coming together to do so much more.


Legislative surreal-ities; what the GOP resists, persists

Obama and GOP House Leadership
Obama: "Got it!" Boehner: "Uh-oh. What? I...this isn't what it looks like." Cantor: "You ain't gettin' this hand."

Compromise – it’s the word that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) eschewed as a synonym for “sell out,” when he spoke to CBS’ Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes, one year ago, before he took the gavel from Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), in January. It should come as no surprise, then, that the third most powerful man in our government is meeting resistance, even within his own caucus, when it comes to implementing a basic and necessary tool used to mitigate government dysfunction.  There will be no negotiated solution, no compromise, as long as Boehner, Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Republicans maintain an unassailable majority in the Lower Chamber.

The numerical advantage enabled them to pull back from an apparent debt deal in the summer, and allowed Republicans on the ensuing Super Committee – which itself was supposed to negotiate a solution – to accept failure. And it pulled back Boehner’s hand at the current payroll tax cut extension agreement, because his caucus reminded him he would be branded a sell out.

Now, though, Boehner & Co. are under attack from those who are supposed to be on their side. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said on CNN, Tuesday, that what his brothers and sisters in the House are doing with the payroll tax cut extension, ” is harming the Republican Party.”

In an editorial Wednesday morning, the decidedly right of center Wall Street Journal admonished the House GOP leadership, calling their actions a “fiasco.”

Despite the House’s maneuver that allowed their caucus to vote against the Senate’s compromise, Tuesday, without it looking like a vote against a tax break, the Journal recognizes it would be perceived that way, anyway. “The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter,” the WSJ editorial board said, adding, “This should be impossible.”

A somewhat cynical McCain took note of the dismal ratings of Congress in his critique. “It is harming the view, if it’s possible any more, of the American people about Congress,” he said.

The continuing cries from the House of, “But our bill will be better. We want a whole year,” is falling on deaf ears because, as they acknowledge, everyone wants a whole year. What they, the Senate and the President want or are willing to exchange for that year, in a hurried negotiation, is the sticking point.

By engaging in another post-settlement negotiation, John Boehner and Eric Cantor are substituting the “legislative realities” the Republicans like to talk about when they “negotiate” a bill, with legislative surreal-ities. And for the millions this legislation affects, the consequences of their political gaming couldn’t be more real.

“The entire exercise is political,” the WSJ editorial points out, “but Republicans have thoroughly botched the politics.”

Maybe the voters will remember that, come November.


Sound and fury… another day, perhaps

In pursuit of reason, we clogged phone lines, crashed email servers and overwhelmed Twitter accounts. Sometimes it feels like, if there wasn’t the predictable attrition of immoral and crooked politicians, we would see no glimmer of sunlight in the illusory, dark clouds conjured by the Kochs and Karl Rove.

But our fight is not over because of one compromise, one bill, one law. That it must pass, for all the political and market reasons, is clear. That this is the patio door we slam into on our way to help seniors and the poor is also true. But we don’t jump up and hit the door again, expecting different results. We get up, dust off our indignation and live to fight another day.

We muster more forces, align politicians, from both sides of the aisle. If neither side’s leadership is crossing the aisle to look for votes, then we should. If you live in a GOP district, and your Congressional representative is afraid of offending Boehner or Cantor or Norquist, remind him or her that those guys don’t vote in your district. Voters do, and you can deliver voters to a cooperative Congressman.

Look, it’s not so much the political party, but the ultra-partisanship that is destroying our country. This bill, as flawed as it is, reflects at least some bipartisanship in how it was assembled and, eventually, approved. Can’t we celebrate that, at least?

One favorite quote, from the Bhagavad Gita (18,59), is “When you say, ‘I will not fight,’ you are misleading yourself. Nature compels you to.”

I fight for cooperation, and for the few wise humans who know how to get things done through action-oriented leadership. I’m very disappointed with the state of the State, but I’ve not given up that enlightenment – for which, I am, alas, compelled at least to try to be a cause – will win out. Can never, ever, give up on that.


Debt rhetoric scary and entertaining at the same time

“I think disgust is still a valid emotion, and that’s kind of the way I’m viewing this.”

– James Amos, CEO, Tasti D-Lite, discussing Congress’ dysfunction, highlighted by the “self-inflicted” debt crisis, on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co, Friday, July 29, 2011

The time for staying above the fray with logic has passed. The simmering, schmaltz-laden pot of thick, soupy speeches in Congress and at the White House, the dire warnings and the vociferous finger pointing and loud, ignorant denials over the debt ceiling has boiled into a bubbling, sputtering mess that leaves no one seated on the governing burner unscalded. Even President Obama cannot escape the pain.

Whether one supports Speaker John Boehner’s plan, or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s, or some kind of compromise, or no compromise, they are all drowning in the same pot of gooey government gumbo like a tubeful of rendered sausage. It all smells terrible, it all tastes terrible, and the steam rising from it are the evaporating wisps of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society.

The pundits’ pre-mortem on the debt debate is that there will be no winners. Everyone loses here, all Americans and definitely all the politicians, if only by degrees. (The gold hoarders win, but that’s a conspiracy for another time.)

Still, some of the most lively, entertaining remarks ever heard from members of Congress, in either chamber, have come in the last month. Some are funny. Others are downright stupid. Here’s a short litany:

The president’s birthday conspiracy

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), in an interview with Newsmax TV, July 17: “I can’t help but be a little bit cynical here. Because we find out the president has a big birthday bash scheduled for August the 3rd, celebrities flying in from all over. And lo and behold, August 2nd is the deadline for getting something done, so he can have this massive, the biggest fundraising dinner in history for a birthday celebration.”

The old man doesn’t get these Tea Party whippersnappers

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), on the floor of the Senate, July 27: “To hold out, and say ‘We won’t agree to raising the debt limit until we pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution,’ it’s unfair. It’s bizarro. And maybe, some people who have only been in this body six or seven months or so, really believe that [we can pass something like that in the Senate].”

The Speaker, as parade ground drill instructor

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), speaking to his caucus, July 27: “Get your ass in line!”

The Speaker’s song

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), on the floor of the House, July 29: “Speaker Boehner is entitled to take as his theme song, It’s My Party, and I’ll Cry If I Want To.”

Lower the debt ceiling, drop out of the country club

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports:

Broun: “I introduced a bill to lower the debt ceiling, not raise it.”

Mitchell: “Congressman, when you talk about lowering the debt ceiling, the debt ceiling is being raised to pay for money that has been appropriated by this Congress and previous Congresses… You’re paying for what has already been charged, not for future expenses.”

Broun: “Well, Andrea, the thing is, when someone is overextended and broke, they don’t continue paying for expensive automobiles. They sell the expensive automobile and buy a cheaper one. They don’t continue paying for country club dues. They drop out of the country club.”

Boxer looks to KO Cantor

Sen. Barbara Boxer, on the floor of the Senate, July 27: “First Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip, marches out of [the White House talks] with his teddy bear and Republican blanket, and then a few weeks later, Boehner walks out.” And again on July 30: “Cantor picked up his blanky and went home.”

The Minority Leader as battle ax

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the floor of the Senate, July 12: “After years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is unattainable.”

But, the president says, it’s time to “peas” do the difficult thing

President Barack Obama, at a White House press conference, July 11: “It’s not going to get easier.  It’s going to get harder.  So we might as well do it now — pull off the Band-Aid; eat our peas.”

The Right thinks we need a Balanced Budget Amendment.  They call it a “permanent solution,” when, in fact, it just creates another long term problem, taking away by edict what politicians don’t have the balls to take away with a vote. It’s starving your mother, maybe literally, just to prove a point.

Broun and other Tea people actually want to  lower the debt limit, which would automatically put us into default. Intransigent so-called leaders petulantly walk out of negotiations. And yet, both sides feel, now is the time to do these things.

As the president said, at the end of his “peas” statement, quoting the great sage, Rabbi Hillel, “If not now, when?”

He might have done better to include the first two lines of that text, to remind lawmakers that they are obliged to take care of others, as well as looking after their own interests:

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? If I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” Rabbi Hillel, the sage, in the section of the Mishnah known as Ethics of the Fathers

America’s mad circus

DC Circus

“There is no aphrodisiac like madness, but it wears off quickly.”
-Kevin Baker, from his novel, Dreamland (HarperCollins, 1999)

In the din of madness, the seething intensity of rancorous anger, the light of American glory dims yellow like a string of bare bulbs outside a red, white and blue striped circus tent. The barker calls one and all to behold the acts, the jugglers and the clowns, the unicyclists and lion tamers, as they make us jeer and cheer, laugh and cry, and sit transfixed in the dark bleachers, while the government show unfolds before us…

Ladies and gentleman of America, welcome to the big dome circus! Tonight, and for the foreseeable future, you will be witnesses and unwilling participants in the Greatest Sham on Earth! Pay attention to the center ring in the Capitol Rotunda, and what you will see is guaranteed to flabbergast and disgust you. It could come form the left, or from the right, from the asses riding elephants backward around the arena, or from the clowns piling out of the Giant Dollar Bill’s shorts or the snake-piss swallowers who poop piles of hard, gold currency.

The conclusion is unavoidable, the process “inevitable,” the principles non-negotiable. Nothing is on the table and everything is on the table AT THE SAME TIME! It’s amazing!

Watch, as Lonesome John, the sad clown from Ohio, whimpers as he shuffles to his two-step process. Watch, as Maudlin Mitch punts our credit rating down the field, without ever managing to score a touchdown. You’ll cheer as Barack the Great balances on the highwire, in a way that both frightens and entertains.

You’ll see the leaders of our story dance ineffectually around the clock to the cha-ching, cha-ching of the carnival calliope, disappearing for a time, then reappearing when you most expect it, Coburn, then Cantor, then Boehner, all in a do-si-do. The players may switch roles – willing negotiators become corporate tools, unsympathetic oligarchs become sympathetic fools – but the drama remains the same.

Watch compromise appear briefly, and then disappear, before your very eyes! Watch, as the clothes disappear off your back with your bargaining rights, your paychecks disappearing into thin air like flash paper! The hand may be quicker than the eye, but it’s slower than the mind, and you’ll watch with numbing glee as the shaft comes toward you and makes you bend over, grab your ankles and take it, willingly.

It’s the Greatest Snow Job on Earth, and you are a captive audience. The mad voter, in their drunken rage, paid for your ticket in 2010, and you’ve no choice but to sit and watch, and occasionally bury your face in your hands in futile despair.

Still, the curtain must close on this cacophony eventually, and you get to exit the tent and enter the polling place, as the circus is dismantled behind you in November, 2012.


I’m up on the tightrope…