Saturday, January 19, 2008

Congress is Back: Gridlock and Waterfowl Ahead

While the House has been back making noise for a week, the more leisurely Senate doesn't return from its holiday break until after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It's then that the Second Session of the 110th Congress will begin in earnest. But, contrary to the powers granted in the Constitution and the reasonable expectations of the electorate, don't think for a second there will be much legislating going on.

Why? Because 2008 is that mystical time vortex known as an election year. Worse, it's a presidential election year. Worst still, it's the first time we haven't had a sitting vice president vying for the Oval Office since 1928. (Yep, the last time we had such wide open primaries the stock market took a header a year later, with the Great Depression hot on its heels. I'm really trying not to read too much into that.) And, of course, we have the usual 435 House seats on the table -- plus the five non-voting House delegates including the one from DC (don't get me started on taxation without representation in our nation's capital) -- as well as 35 seats up for grabs in the Senate. Like a kid in a candy shop, Congress will have only one thing on its collective mind -- and it won't be law making.

You see, the election year vortex makes our Congressional friends even slower on the uptake than usual. It works something like this: no one wants to let anyone else achieve anything that could be viewed as an even remotely attractive accomplishment on the campaign trail. And, while it's mostly Democrats tripping up Republicans and and Republicans stiff-arming Democrats, it's also been happening even amongst "friends." It's primary season, when intraparty search and destroy is the order of the day. Until recently, it was more unusual to stumble over a Senator who wasn't running for president than one who was -- as a result, truthfully, it was unusual to stumble over a Senator in DC, period. They were all out of town kissing babies. While that situation will improve with Biden, Dodd, and Brownback's return, it's still a factor.

When Clinton and Obama do wander back inside the beltway, their camps are watching closely to ensure neither accomplishes anything of note while the nomination's still up for grabs. In the same vein, McCain detractors are keeping the Maverick from pushing pieces of his agenda in the Senate -- these are folks in his own party, mind you -- because they've pledged allegiance to other candidates. Combine this election year vortex with the already truculent partisan bickering on Capitol Hill and a lame duck, veto-happy president as determined to be relevant as a stubborn toddler whining "me do it, mommy," and you've got granny's family recipe for gridlock. Congress will be lucky to pass its budget this year, and anything else of import will only be done after a careful political calculus has revealed that neither party gets the bennies or its impact is somehow a wash.

In fact, I'll go out on a short limb right now and predict there will be a lame duck Congressional session after the election. In fairness, however, part of this lameness, er, gridlock will come as a result of President's Bush's last minute muscle contractions, with expected vetoes on anything that doesn't feed the hungry monster that is Iraq or cut domestic programs -- which (call me crazy) seem even more necessary to a country going through rough economic times. (BTW, did anyone notice that when Romney was asked this week how he would fund the great research and innovation age that he predicted would resurrect manufacturing jobs, he recommended we oughta cut all those wasteful, piddly job training programs? Still can't believe Michigan, the state with the highest unemployment rate, voted for this transparent wannabe.)

At any rate, the Zaftig Redhead is predicting we'll see lawmakers coming back to the Potomac post Nov. 4, some of whom will have lost their seats yet will be still empowered to take critical votes on the people's business -- including how to spend our tax dollars. Now that's democracy for you.

No comments: