The Deeper Problem: Where is Congress?

In November either Barack Obama or John McCain will be elected president. Either man faces a host of issues. The economy is a blanket term but broken down it encompasses the unemployment problem, the credit crisis, the mortgage crisis, and the overall crisis of confidence in the US. That problem will no doubt hamper their ability to deal with major issues like social security and healthcare.

Look overseas and the issues get no better. Winding down a fragile but hopeful and expensive situation in Iraq. Reengaging in Afghanistan, a major offensive that will take as much by way of resources as Iraq is right now. The troubling relationship with Russia and it’s satelites. Our beleagured non-policy in dealing with Iran. And the single greatest issue facing the world today, energy, how we collect it, how we use it and how we stop killing the planet in order to get it.  You are starting to see a short list of issues that will confront the next American President.

However, I will offer to you another issue, one that strikes to the core of our democracy and is boring a hole in the fabric of who we are as Americans and has been since the early part of the twentieth century.

The problem I’m speaking of is that of the modern presidency. The president today is no longer simply head of the executive branch of government and commander-in-chief of our armed forces. He is something more of a God-King, enabled by a do-nothing congress and a myoptically focused media to set and drive the legislative agenda for the entire nation.

It’s only as I watch this election unfold that I realize exactly how much weight we give to one branch of our government. The presidential race is given the vast and overwhelming majority of media coverage. When John McCain sneezes there’s a blogger there to tell us how long it took for an aide to hand him a tissue. Yet this is a national election year and half of congress is up for reelection. No media outlet, not even the local news is covering that campaign with even 1/100th of the vigor of the presidential race. 

We expect one man in one office of government to solve the issues I listed earlier with hardly any help. The God-King will sit on high and solve the nation’s issues without the deliberative body politic. This is not the way our founders designed our government to work. Nor is it the way we teach our children that democracy should work. The president’s office was never designed to be CEO only reporting to the board of directors every four years at election time. Rather we are supposed to have a fully functional and representative congress speaking to the needs and desires of it’s local districts in the hopes of drafting laws that fit the will of the people. It is staggering to think that in our day and age of overwhelming communication ability most people cannot even name their congressional representative. The simple fact that we have come so far away petitioning our members of congress is not just disheartening it’s threatening our way of life.

When President Bush began the march to war in Iraq, congress in a bipartisan fashion did little to oppose him. There was little demand for evidence or for explanation. In short, congress stepped aside and let it happen. We stepped back and wondered how we could let a president become so powerful, we chastised President Bush for becoming an emperor, we blamed 9/11 for giving the President political carte blanche to rule his own way. 

But what we didn’t realize or recognize is that we the American people are the enablers, and we’re going it again. Mincing every word these candidates say and allowing single individuals to dictate not just the agenda as is proper, but the actual legislative packages for taxation, our entitlement programs, our energy programs, our infrastructure, our healthcare. I ask, where is Congress? Where are the American people demanding that their congressman/woman represent their issues? 

We need a more politically active and vigorous congress willing to make the bold initiatives and broker deals to get things done with enough support that president would be foolish not to sign it. Bring back congress America for the sake of all of us.

Extraordinary Times

It is perhaps fitting that this election is the first in American history to have this much media coverage. Someday history writers will look back on this election cycle as one for the ages. Tonight’s actions are just another example. From the Washington Post’s The Trail:

The president has invited the bicameral and bipartisan leadership, and the two senators running for president, to the White House tomorrow “to work on driving to a bipartisan and timely solution.”

Obama has agreed to attend the meeting.

“A few moments ago, President Bush called Senator Obama and asked him to attend a meeting in Washington tomorrow, which he agreed to do,” Obama-Biden spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement. “Senator Obama has been working all week with leaders in Congress, Secretary Paulson, and Chairman Bernanke to improve this proposal, and he has said that he will continue to work in a bipartisan spirit and do whatever is necessary to come up with a final solution. He strongly believes the debate should go forward on Friday so that the American people can hear from their next President about how he will lead America forward at this defining moment for our country.”

Take a moment to consider that. A sitting US president has invited both senators running for president to the White House to discuss an active piece of legislation worth at least $700 billion 40 days before the election. To my knowledge there is nothing even close to precedent for that kind of action. 

 

From Johnathan Martin’s Blog:

The two candidates also released a joint statement tonight, urging bipartisanship in a time of crisis:

“The American people are facing a moment of economic crisis. No matter how this began, we all have a responsibility to work through it and restore confidence in our economy. The jobs, savings, and prosperity of the American people are at stake. 

“Now is a time to come together – Democrats and Republicans – in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people. The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bush Administration is flawed, but the effort to protect the American economy must not fail. 

“This is a time to rise above politics for the good of the country. We cannot risk an economic catastrophe. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country.”

I can only wonder if you don’t realize you’re watching history as it’s happening. Watching the world change or at the very least the country. But today there are thousands of voices chiming in reaction as a unpopular sitting president, the two men vying to replace him, the treasury and federal reserve as well as the congress attempt to work together to craft a bill designed to stave off another depression. 

These are extraordinary times indeed.

Kristol and the Bailout

It says something about this financial crisis that it has me and William Kristol in agreement. I’ve used words in the past like “pin-head” and “moron” to describe him. But this morning’s column is a calm and sober assessment of crisis. There are serious questions to be asked about this bailout. Both in practical operational terms, and in the longer term. 

While I recognize the need for immediate action, failing to think this through and craft a plan with some semblance of long-term thinking will only serve to hurt us a few years from now. So for once, William Kristol and I agree.

 

Guys and Gals, take a breath and think this one through,

Tax and Spending Plans are about to meet reality

Hank Paulson, Treasury Secretary, announced a bailout plan that could end up costing as much as $1 Trillion.  Congress is going to work through the potential legislation over the weekend. Whatever may come of this, one thing is certain….

More tax cuts, universal healthcare, or any of the other huge spending intitiatives these candidates have proposed are realistically off the table.