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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Congress owes US an apology

Telegraph Editorial

Worst. Congress. Ever.

OK, maybe we should leave that determination up to professional historians, but it’s difficult to think otherwise based on what has transpired on Capitol Hill this year, capped by this week’s debacle over extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for another year.

What else can you say about a Congress that brought the nation to the verge of a government shutdown not once, not twice, but on eight separate occasions because of disagreements over spending?

What else can you say about a Congress that teetered on the brink of default over the perfunctory raising of the debt limit to meet previous spending obligations – including those enacted with the votes of House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – prompting Standard & Poor’s to lower the nation’s credit rating for the first time in history.

What else can you say about a Congress in which 12 hand-picked members of an ironically named “supercommittee” – six Republicans and six Democrats with a combined 190 years of Washington experience – failed after months of debate to reach agreement on cutting a single dime from the national debt, triggering an across-the-board cut of $1.2 trillion starting in 2013?

And what else can you say about a Congress that – barring an eleventh-hour deal – will put a fitting exclamation point on 2011 by failing to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for millions of Americans?

“It’s been one of the worst Congresses in modern history,” said five-term Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., even before this past week’s shenanigans. “We have failed to meet our minimum standards of competency and endangered America’s credit rating. We have failed to pass key legislation on time. And there is very little hope for improved behavior.”

Maybe that’s why Cooper was one of eight Democratic and Republican lawmakers present earlier this month when No Labels, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to ending gridlock in Washington, unveiled its 12-point “Make Congress Work” plan (http://nolabels.org/work).

In fact, Cooper already has committed to the first item on the list by introducing the No Budget, No Pay Act (H.R. 3643), which would withhold lawmakers’ pay if they fail to adopt a budget resolution and annual appropriation bills by the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1. A corresponding bill (S. 1442) has been introduced by Republican Sen. Dean Heller, of Nevada.

Among the other points, most of which don’t require legislation or money:

All presidential appointees should receive an up or down vote within 90 days of their name being presented to the Senate.

Senators should have to take the floor to explain why they intend to filibuster a piece of legislation.

Congressional rules should be reformed so a bipartisan majority can bring bills to the floor over the objection of party leaders.

The president should make himself available for question-and-answer periods with congressional leaders, similar to the British Parliament’s sessions with the prime minister.

And the members’ only “pledge” should be to the Pledge of Allegiance and oath of office, not special-interest groups.

We believe many of these proposals have merit and, if implemented, could help break the gridlock that has marred Congress this year.

More to the point, how could they possibly make things any worse?