The first battles for the new 113th Congress over the debt ceiling and postponed spending cuts will set the stage for what we can expect over the next two years, and hopefully it won't be a repeat of the past two.
Pose the question to anyone about what they think of Congress and you have a better chance of winning a million in the lottery than getting a positive reply. Most people, however, are rather myopic in their view: Their party or their congressional representatives are good; it's the other side or the other members who can't get things done.
A Republican lawmaker who, while running for president, says we can't raise the debt limit because it is "writing a blank check" for the Obama administration, as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann did in the GOP primaries, demonstrates the ignorance of some elected officials. Raising the debt ceiling allows us to pay bills that we have already accumulated, it doesn't provide "new money" to play with.
Likewise, a Democratic lawmaker and, at the time, House Speaker, who says we have to rush to pass a massive health-care reform bill "so that you can find out what's in it," displays similar character flaws. Then-speaker Nancy Pelosi's comments may have been taken a little out of context by Republicans eager to bash her, but the fact remains that Democrats had to do a lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering in order to get the bill passed, and many of the secret deals for votes that were made behind closed doors in order to assure passage weren't known until much later. That's no way to run government.
Throw in to the mix a healthy spattering of representatives and senators accused of wrongdoing from both parties and it is fairly evident that neither major party can lay any claim whatsoever to the moral high ground, or to putting the country before their own personal loyalties.
So anyone who is even a little remotely honest with themselves has to admit that everyone shares in the responsibility.
The fiscal cliff debacle that we just went through is further proof of the dysfunction of Congress. The deal, which wasn't done until after the last possible minute, preserves some tax breaks for the middle class, but beyond that it doesn't do much of anything except kick the can down the road and lay the foundation for a repeat performance in the coming months.
For more than a year people in both parties have been saying that we need to increase revenues and reduce spending to get our national budget under control. Well, we got a little new revenue from this bill, but keeping the Bush tax cuts for most families is still going to cost quite a bit in the coming year and further add to the deficit. On top of that, the spending cuts that everyone agrees we need weren't ominously absent from the legislation.
So now the worst Congress in the history of our country has been dismissed and a new version made up mostly of the same people as the last version has taken over. Have they learned anything from the past two years?
Republicans said their main concern the past two years was denying President Barack Obama a second term. Well, that didn't quite work out for them. Democrats, meanwhile, have spent the past two years crying in the corner about how the mean Republicans wouldn't work with them. And while all this was gong on our economy continued to limp along with no real plan for recovery or how to improve things.
The coming months and the battles over spending cuts and the debt ceiling provide an opportunity for members of both parties to grow up and start doing their jobs.
Republicans should start out by saying they don't oppose any debt ceiling increase. Pass it and get it over with.
Democrats should start by saying, OK, we got the tax increase on the rich that we've been wanting, so here is what we are going to do to cut spending: then outline a specific, long-range plan that will accomplish that.
I'm not betting on either happening. I think we have a better chance of winning a million in the lottery. But it's a new year, a new Congress and we can always hope that people will learn from their past mistakes and vow not to repeat them.