Gridlock in Washington

Washington DC 2014

I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
– Thomas Jefferson

The nation’s capital is facing a dire situation – Congress is in gridlock. Nothing is getting done, change is not coming, and America is not moving forward. Thanks to divided party politics and the media’s choice to cover scandals (I think we’ve heard enough about freshman congressman Vance McAllister) rather than any actual issues, America as a whole is in a stalemate that sadly, few citizens in my generation actually realize exist. In 2013, Congress passed a mere 58 bills, the fewest since the 1940s. Rather than a lame-duck session, Congress seems to be in a perpetual state of a sitting-duck session. And evidently, the situation is only going to worsen with midterm elections looming. According to a recent Gallup poll conducted in January 2014, Congress’ approval rating is at 13 percent. I guess I have to give them credit for making little strides of improvement. After all, it’s better than the nine percent approval rating they managed to reach in November 2013.

And while I’m not one to always place blame or take sides, it seems in this case that a majority of our struggle is thanks to our fair-weather friend the GOP. This past week alone, Republicans in the House blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, steps towards equal pay, protections for homosexuals in the workplace, as well as any increases in the federal minimum wage. Many of the Republicans in Congress are holding hands with the past, and just like Kate Winslet, they don’t ever want to let go. Very few members in either party are willing to put their asses on the line, so to speak. Even with the known consequences of a government default, it still took a tremendous amount of effort to raise the federal debt ceiling – an action that did not call for an increase in government spending, but one that simply authorized the Treasury to pay for what Congress said they would already pay for. Do we need to call NASA in? Because Congress has acted like doing its job is rocket science.

The Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate are left at odds and left with little goodwill from the public. From the government shutdown to inaction regarding the economy, unemployment, and immigration reform, the public is getting fed up with this whole zero cooperation act and zero-sum game. Let’s look at immigration reform, for example. An overwhelming 81 percent of Americans support citizenship for illegal immigrants (that meet specific qualifications) as well as enhanced border patrols. And yet, Tea Party Republicans responded with a proposal that would give these illegal immigrants a document that would allow them to legally work and pay taxes in the United States, but not be granted citizenship of said country – neither Democrats nor the American public supported that. In fact, the only individual I know that spoke publicly about potentially cooperating with this proposal is President Obama. And even then, Republicans fired back stating that our President is unwilling to work with the GOP and has proved ineffective in enforcing the current immigration laws. And here we have a case in point of the petty bickering that has dominated Congress for well over a year now. An effortless look at the numbers and these long forgotten things called facts would actually show that the Obama administration has been more than successful in enforcing immigration laws. The administration is currently deporting over 1,100 illegal immigrants on a daily basis, and deported nearly 410,000 illegal immigrants in 2012 (that’s over 2.5 times the number of deportations in 2002…when Republican George W. Bush held office).

As I said, 2014 is an election year for Congress, meaning that now less than nothing will get done as members won’t necessarily be focused on improving their poor performance and putting a stop to this pointless squabbling, but the members themselves will be focused on what actions or decisions will paint them in the best political lighting (not necessarily on what is most beneficial to their constituents and American citizens as a whole).

The silver lining, if any, is that the stalemate in Congress has actually spurred more legislative activity on a state and local level. If we can’t rely on the federal government, we have to do it ourselves, right? Pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Teddy Roosevelt would be proud. Outside of executive orders and any possibility for diplomacy, President Obama is left with little else to move the needle on these issues. For instance, President Obama called for an increased in the minimum wage in his 2013 State of the Union, and since Congress isn’t doing a damn thing to help the working American, DC and nearly ten other states have already gone ahead and raised their own minimum wages, and over 34 others have started debating over the issue and pushing for change. Is this the way we are going to have to address issues until the election occurs? With a dependence placed on the shoulders of state legislatures, the President must do what he can with his bully pulpit (another shout out to Teddy Roosevelt) to push forward his agenda in the last two years of his term. This process seems to be the only possibility for Americans to circumvent the obstruction of any actual politicking to occur in Congress. But the states need help, too. Our federal government was constructed for a reason, but Congress (primarily the GOP-led House) continues to stymy the passage of a majority of initiatives that come to the floor. In January 2014, the nation’s governors even expressed their own disapproval of Congress’ performance primarily because, as I said, their states require federal assistance.

To be fair, our federal government has managed to roll out the Affordable Care Act – after the Supreme Court declared it a law, but we can overlook that latter fact (how very Romney-esque of me) and simply attribute the success primarily to our President and the “efforts” of Congress.

If we want long-term changes, then we need long-term policies that offer long-term solutions – it seems as if members of Congress suffer from the same flaw that many of us suffer from: the inability to look beyond oneself and see the big picture. In the meantime, we are left to chart our own course. We as Americans have been granted the captain’s hat, but there’s no guarantee of smooth sailing ahead.

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