How bad governance drives out the good

So Congress passed, and president Obama signed into law, the bill that extended government funding until January 15, 2014 and raised the debt ceiling to last until February 7, 2014. So after all the political grandstanding and posturing and interminable news conferences, we seem to have returned to the status quo, set to repeat the process in three months. And to what end? There was no repeal, defunding, delay, or anything other than the most trivial modification made in the Affordable Care Act, the supposed reason for the whole drama.

But it is not a return to the status quo for many people who were actually hurt by the shut down, either because of loss of business or by not being paid on time or by being denied services or because the general disruption of the economy slowed down growth and resulted in fewer jobs being created. Many people suffered irrevocable losses and the full reckoning will come later.

In last night’s vote, the Senate approved the measure by an 81-18 votes, all the nays being Republicans and 28 of them voting yes. In the House the vote was 284-144, again with all the nays being Republicans and 87 of them voting yes with the Democrats. The Republican party clearly lost ground and has split into two camps, even though it is trying to put on a good face, giving speaker John Boehner an ovation and saying that his job is secure and that they will continue to fight another day against the ACA.

What was interesting is that senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio and congressman Paul Ryan all voted no. This tells us something because these are all the people with serious ambitions for becoming their party’s presidential nominee in 2016. What it tells me is that they are all angling to get the support of the big money interests that pushed them into this futile battle (Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, the Koch brothers, and other wealthy right-wingers). If that is where these people see the future, then the party is in for a rough time since the party establishment clearly sees the kind of brinkmanship pursued by these groups as a losing strategy.

The spacing of the new deadlines suggest that it is almost as if all parties have deliberately set the stage for a repeat, since on the past occasion the debt ceiling limit was due to be hit 17 days after the shut down while in the next iteration, it will be 23 days after the government closes, if it does. So will there be a repeat of this debacle in three months? But since there is no doubt that the Republican party took a severe beating in the polls, all logic would suggest that they would avoid having a repeat of this debacle and not try the same tactic again.

What worries me is that that kind of logical thinking is scarce. Instead I see the steady erosion of good governance. Much of governance involves slow, steady, and detailed work, mostly setting priorities and budgets on a fairly fine-grained scale. That is ultimately what taxing and spending is meant to be about. But that has gone out the window. We now have the government consisting of people who find that kind of painstaking work boring and look only at the big picture and grand plans. So we now have continuing resolutions that simply continue what was done before or simply scale up or down total spending limits.

As I said in a previous post, the work of Congressional committees and subcommittees, where the bulk of the action used to take place, is now seen as not desirable. It seems like members of Congress find it much more fun to stand in front of TV cameras and microphones and make speeches. Once you have taken a sip of that drug, its intoxicating allure is hard to resist.

Politics in the US is slipping inexorably into becoming a reality TV show. What we just witnessed was essentially a hit show that gained worldwide media attention, great ratings, and made stars out of previously obscure politicians. Even I was sucked in. Why wouldn’t they want to have a second season? Why go back to boring old governing, working largely in anonymity, when you can gain so much attention by threatening to shut the government down?

It was fitting that the whole drama ended on a surreal note. Towards the end of the House vote last night, a stenographer went on a bizarre rant.

The stenographer apparently began shouting about God, the free masons and a House divided, just as federal workers’ pay was being restored.

“He will not be mocked. He will not be mocked. Don’t touch me. He will not be mocked. The greatest deception here is this is not ‘one nation under God.’ It never was. Had it been, it would not have been … no … it would not have been,” the stenographer yelled as Capitol Police dragged her from the House floor.

“The Constitution would not have been written by free masons. They go against God,” she said. “You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve two masters. Praise be to God. Lord Jesus Christ.”

Perhaps this government employee was driven over the edge by what she had to endure, listening to grandstanding and posturing day after day and having to write down the endless stream of inanities. If so, she deserves our sympathy more than our condemnation.


  1. Who Cares says

    The debt ceiling is going to be put on what is expected to be the debt on Feb 7. This means that they can do the same trick as they did before and use those special measures to move the point of default forward. Not sure how often but it’d be for periods of 29 days (the shortest treasury bond).

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