Alan Zendell, September 27, 2021
This week will probably be the most difficult one this or any recent Congress has faced in years. The need for bipartisan agreement is more desperate now than at any time I can remember, but the likelihood of achieving it, even partially, is becoming vanishingly small. Republicans are marching in lockstep to obstruct everything the Biden administration wants to do, and Democrats seem intent on proving that they are incapable of compromising among themselves.
With budget reconciliation, having to keep the government functioning and raising the debt ceiling, infrastructure legislation on the table, and climate change and voting rights bills barely in their larval stages, even an eternal optimist like me can’t see much light at the end of this tunnel. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the Senate is languishing in the House because Democrats there can’t take “Yes” for an answer.
Democrats are like little children squabbling on a playground with no adult around to mediate. In a Congress run by septua- and octagenarians, it’s hard to find more than a handful willing to act like the adults in the room. No matter that majorities of sizes rarely seen in national opinion polls support the administration’s policy agenda, those who were elected to represent us seem hell-bent on ignoring public opinion in favor of what their deep-pocket donors want.
Republicans are willing to bring the country to the brink of financial disaster to preserve the Trump tax cuts and sit idly by while state legislatures turn their states into right-wing horror shows. And Democrats who seem to have never been taught to share, are split in factions, each of which demands the whole pie for itself. With all the talk about domestic and foreign threats to our democracy, Congress seems quite willing to simply let it die of neglect rather that put aside differences in the national interest.
With mid-term election season just a few months away, (in effect, it started the day this Congress was sworn in,) it’s difficult to imagine why voters on the fence would entrust Democrats with more power when they can’t even work together among themselves. It’s even more difficult to imagine giving power back to Republicans when the party appears to be totally intimidated by Trump’s base. If this were a sports or corporate misadventure, we could simply boycott them all until they felt the pain in their wallets, but boycotting the mid-term election isn’t an option.
What’s the average citizen to do? Frankly, I can’t thing of anything. Congress has chosen to be tone deaf to majority opinion, and with several critical things about to come to a head, we’re powerless to do anything but sit and watch, surviving on some combination of prayer, alcohol, tranquilizers, meditation and cannabis. The best thing to do is pay careful attention, take notes, and remember which members are guilty of the worst betrayals come election time.
Up first are the battles over keeping the government fiscally solvent so it can avoid a shutdown and raising the debt ceiling to avoid America going into default, which could have serious consequences for our credit rating. To any reasonable observer, both issues appear to be no-brainers. But Mitch McConnell has made two things clear: Republicans will only vote to keep the Government open if the enabling legislation does not mention the debt ceiling, and they intend to force Democrats to use their slim majority to raise it on their own.
Apparently, Republicans believe that will enable them to accuse Democrats of trying to bankrupt the country when it’s time to re-elect Congress. But it’s not clear that Democrats in states where Trump’s base could defeat them will allow themselves to be put in that position, despite the fact that failing to raise the debt limit could seriously damage both the economy and the financial markets. I see no reason to be optimistic about the chances of our dysfunctional Congress getting its act together.
Yet, after yesterday, I can’t give up hope. I live in Maryland, the home of the Baltimore Ravens, who trailing by one point late in the fourth period, had about a 0.01% chance of defeating the Detroit Lions with fourth down and nineteen yards to go and under ten seconds on the clock. Remarkably, their quarterback, Lamar Jackson, completed a first down pass leaving three seconds to play, which raised the Ravens’ win probability to about 0.1% Their field goal kicker, Justin Tucker, despite being the best in the league, had never kicked a field goal longer than 61 yards, and he was facing a 66 yard kick. By now, everyone now knows the kick landed on the crossbar of the goal posts and went over to win the game.
Maybe there’s still hope. We’ll see.