by Benjamin J. Kirby
Over on Facebook, my friend Shelba expressed this frustration:
I've said this before so forgive my lack of creativity, but can we please throw Congress...all of Congress, off of the biggest damn cliff in America and start again? This fiscal cliff nonsense is totally reckless and absolute bullshit. Josh goes to a school where all the children are taught to mediate and negotiate as part of the curriculum. I say we send Congress there for a year and send the elementary school kids to D.C.
"...totally reckless and absolute bullshit" is about right, actually.
But -- speaking of reckless -- I couldn't keep my mouth shut, and posted this:
For the record, it's not the whole Congress. It's the 45-50 tea party-loyal conservatives who won't budge on raising the tax rate for millionaires. They'd rather you and I and poor people foot the bill with cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and barring that, they'd just as soon go off the cliff.
It's a gross oversimplification, actually, and I should've just let Shelba's not-all-that-bad idea about having politicians start from scratch stand on its own.
It is an oversimplification, but it's true. Lawmakers spent the day in a last-ditch negotiations trying to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff". But here's where some context becomes important.
Even if they work something out, it remains unclear to me -- unclear at best -- that the fifty or so tea party extremists in the Republican caucus in the House will do what Speaker John Boehner tells them to do. They already bucked him once.
And that was my only point with the comment.
Sadly, that wasn't the end of it. Brian -- a friend of Shelba's -- said this in response:
Yeah, it has nothing to do with the 40+ bills passed by the House over the past 4 years that the Democratic controlled Senate hasn't had a vote on yet...for the record....and don't forget the Affordable Health Car Act will take care of everyone so no worries on Medicare...
I waited a few hours before I responded, I swear I did. I did my very best to just swallow it -- to not engage.
Couldn't do it.
My response -- the one you knew was coming -- follows:
Really, Brian? "40+ bills in the House"? That's the best you have?
For the record, there are 12,273 bills and resolutions currently before Congress. You correctly qualified "40" with a plus sign, but I wonder if you knew just how much of a plus it really was.
And *for the record* -- the one that actually matters -- in President Obama's first term, he oversaw one of the most active legislative agendas in a generation. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It's about discrimination and equal pay for women.
He signed the Children's Health Insurance Reauthorization Act. He signed the DTV Delay Act -- delaying mandatory digital TV for everyone. He signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the stimulus. If you're not a fan, just ask GM how well it worked out for them. There was the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009, and a dozen or so more really big ones, including laws to help veterans, people with HIV/AIDS, people in credit card debt, and small business owners.
That was just 2009.
In 2010, he signed the Affordable Care Act. You're clearly not a fan, Brian, but the more than 30 million Americans who will now be covered probably are. That includes the nearly 13 million Americans who received a rebate because their insurance company spent too much of their premium dollars on administrative costs or CEO bonuses. It includes the 5.3 million seniors and people with disabilities who will save an average of over $600 on prescription drugs in the “donut hole” in Medicare coverage. It includes the 6.6 million young adults who have been able to stay on their parents’ plans until the age of 26, including 3.1 million young people who are newly insured.
You want all Americans covered? So do I. Let's ask John Boehner what his plan is to cover those Americans. Better yet, ask any of the 50 or so tea party Republicans in the House of Representatives what their plan is.
There were even more dozen big-ticket items signed into law in 2010, including help for earthquake survivors in Haiti, consumers, and veterans (again). And there was more in 2011.
Throw them all out and start again? Less than two months ago we had an election in which most every member of the House was up for re-election, and a good chunk of the Senate was, too. Many of our local officials were on the ballot. And we picked a president, too. I volunteered a lot of my time for candidates I liked and worked to get them elected in hopes of changing the system for the better. What did you do?
"Inaction" -- such as it is -- isn't driven by the leadership, and it is not driven by the whole. It is a function of a Congress that can afford to be politically polarized thanks to an increasing lack of swing districts in this country. In short, it is about money in politics.
I recommend Nate Silver's in-depth piece on this problem: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/27/as-swing-districts-dwindle-can-a-divided-house-stand/
Finally -- for the record -- with respect to the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff, this is not a problem at which to direct anger towards the whole: it is a handful of conservative Republicans in the House who will not be moved. As I said in my previous comment, these folks would just as soon go off the so-called "cliff" than raise tax rates for the wealthy.
Sorry to hijack the comment thread, Shelba. In fairness, I was waiting for Brian to say he was kidding. Apparently he wasn't.
And in fairness to me, I apologized to Shelba, both in the comment and in person. Haven't heard any more from Brian. Can't imagine why.
Look, these guys -- the fifty or so tea party types in Congress -- have no interest -- none -- in governing, which is what the "fiscal cliff" deal is really about.
I'm guessing we'll go over the "cliff," and then some emergency middle class tax cuts will pass -- so the tea partiers can say they cut taxes -- and it will also include unpalatable (to me) restoration of mandatory Defense Department cuts.
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Quoting myself on Facebook. Jeez.
If you're looking for my shark-jumping moment of 2012, this may be it.
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I noted yesterday that we lost a lot of good folks in 2012, a lot of world-class musicians.
One of them was banjo virtuoso Earl Scruggs, who died in March of this year at 88 years old. I noted at the time that Emeline was enamored with his music -- and she still is (she likes all kinds of music, anyway).
It's finally Friday.