Our Congressional Spoiled Brats

I came across this piece in Yahoo News from Reuters and it pretty much nails what one of the biggest problems are in Congress today. Not just with the right but the left as well.

The long-gone old bulls of the U.S. Congress — giants like Democrats Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neill and Republicans Everett Dirksen and Bob Dole — knew how to fight.

But unlike some of their modern-day counterparts, they also knew how to get along and cut deals to rein in the budget, save Social Security, reform tax and immigration laws, expand healthcare and enact civil rights.

With Congress and President Barack Obama struggling over many of those same problems today, critics question whether Washington has the ability to overcome bitter partisanship and find a path to cut spending, raise the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt limit and avoid financial calamity by an August 2 deadline.

“When I was in Congress, we’d get in a room, ask each other, ‘What the hell are you talking about,’ say ‘Stop your crying,’ and then do something for the sake of the country,” said Alan Simpson, a former Senate Republican leader who retired from the chamber in 1996 after 18 years of service.

“Nowadays, members are more interested in pummeling each other than working with each other. It’s sad,” said Simpson, who last year co-chaired the Obama deficit-reduction commission that failed to reach a consensus to force congressional action.

We would not have had any of the progressive legislation we have today if not for the dealing and the horse trading that was done across the aisles.

Today’s obstacles to a debt-limit deal have nothing to do with lack of experience by those now in power.

Between them, Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner — three central players in the unfolding debt and spending-cut debate — have worked 85 years in Washington.

Rather, campaign fundraising that never ends, 24-hour cable news networks and websites that thrive on conflict and a polarized electorate have collided to make it tougher for lawmakers to find their way to a deal and a handshake.

Now, members of Congress seem more motivated by politics and point-scoring with voters than with policy, said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

He cited the Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, telling The National Journal last year: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

“That kind of statement never would have been made by Everett Dirksen,” Ornstein said of the Republican icon who joined with Democratic President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to find the votes to enact landmark civil rights legislation.

This is true. I am sure that if anyone would have even made such a statement in the past, they would have been censored by both parties and quite possibly stripped of any committeeship.  And most certainly and freshman Senator of Congressman would not be calling the shots like the tea party crowd is now.  They would have been informed from the get go to take their seat, keep their mouth shut and vote the way they are told and maybe, maybe if they get elected again, they might get on some committee.

In 1970, 33 percent of members of Congress were considered moderates, based on their voting records, according to James Thurber of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.

In 2011, that figure stands at 5 percent, Thurber said.

“The extreme partisanship, lack of civility and comity and inability to pass legislation has occurred as a result of more individuals on the far right and far left being elected to the House and Senate,” Thurber said.

What we have now in congress – especially on the right – is a group of immature, inexperienced, self centered, self involved technocrats and dare I say – just spoiled brats – with all the emotional maturity of a badly parented two year old.  Their only interest is to get their own way regardless of the cost.

Former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, who served in the House from 1977 through 2005, said in his heyday, the powerful tax-writing committees would hold retreats, invite administration officials and “talk in an informal relaxed, unforced way about these tough issues. We also got to know one another better and began to trust one another better.”

The result, Gephardt said, was landmark tax reform in 1986 followed by bipartisan trade legislation in 1988 and a 1990 budget deal.

Times have changed.

A growing number of members now go home on weekends where they meet with voters and campaign. Rather than bipartisan relationships, they build partisan rivalries.

“Today there’s incredible bitterness,” Obey said. “There is less in the way of personal relationships. And that makes it easier to ignore the fact that the other guy has good intentions and may have a good idea.”

Bill Frenzel, a former Republican congressman who is a Brookings Institution scholar, said today’s issues — the country’s staggering national debt, for example — “clearly are more difficult and you have a young group in the House, young in seniority, who want to be fierce.”

Tea Party activists, Frenzel said, remind him of the big group of Democrats who entered the House after the 1974 post-Watergate elections. “They made it difficult for the speaker to do anything,” Frenzel said.

But what can you expect. They were voted in by a group of immature, inexperienced, self centered, self involved technocrats and dare I say – just spoiled brats – with all the emotional maturity of a badly parented two year old.  The reason for this, I think, is that unlike in the past where most members of congress came up through the ranks, had military service and even knew what it was like to have to scrape for a living at some point – these people and their supporters live relatively easy lives and went from HS to College and maybe worked as attorneys or went directly into politics. All the while getting their hearts desire with little real effort.

3 thoughts on “Our Congressional Spoiled Brats

  1. Well, other than my usual critique about your broad-brushing generalizations (wink, wink), I like this post because I agree with you that – in general – Congress seems more interested in squashing the “other side” than they do about helping Americans. It’s shameful and it causes nothing but…nothing. It gets nothing done, does nothing to help.

    There are some good ones out there, though. Please remember that. My beloved Rep Nita Lowey is one of them. But then, she’s old school, has been in government for many years, and is very liberal in a very liberal state.

    1. cmaukonen

      Then your are fortunate. There are fewer and fewer of the old school around any more.

      I feel like I’m talking like my grandparents though a bit. However we need more people with a broader and deeper experience than we currently have. You simply cannot run a government with idealogs and technocrats, you need depth of experience and common sense as well.

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