Monday, July 25, 2011

When Simple Things Become Hard

After the Republican takeover of the US House, I proposed a simple model of productivity we could expect from the 112th Congress. It plotted the number of house members that the President's party controlled in the House versus the number of 'major legislative accomplishments' passed that year. It was a little flimsy as far as political science models go, but the simple story seemed right. Over the past 40 years, there has been an obvious trend pointing towards more legislative business being completed as the President's party controls more seats in the House. Based purely on the number of Democrats elected to the House in November, my model predicted 14 major accomplishments over the course of 2011-2012. That number looks very wrong right now.

The 112th Congress has completed no major accomplishments in its first 6 months of action, barely scraping together a budget to avert a government shutdown, and now failing to lift the debt ceiling. Congress has lifted the debt ceiling 70 times since the debt ceiling's inception. What makes it so hard on the 71st lift? The muscles of the American political system seem to have atrophied entirely. John Boehner (who, the President hastens to interject, is not a bad guy despite his total inability to lead) must do the basic work of showing up on the House Floor and ushering together enough votes to avoid a global financial crisis. It wouldn't be so hard if his leadership hadn't pinned a dystopian vision onto the debt ceiling bill.

America's credit rating, however, was one hostage-taking too far. When home buyers go to a bank in a month for a mortgage or a college graduate applies for a credit card, she will pay the price for Boehner's intransigence in higher cost of borrowing, constricted credit, not to mention the limp that the Republicans are putting into an already too-slow jobs recovery. It should be a routine vote, but the Republicans in Congress are failing to perform a necessary task that Congress has done 70 times before. It's when the simple things become hard that you have to wonder about how soon the end is coming. It's hard to watch a parent begin to misremember your name or see them lose the ability to perform simple tasks. For American citizens, this long painful goodnight to adult governance is doubly depressing. Dearly held civics lessons about loyal opposition and good-faith democracy have been shattered, but more importantly, we're on the brink of doing the same to our economy.

To paraphrase Sting, I hope the Republicans care about their interest rates, too.

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