Congress as Anti-Santa: Its Time to Actually Change
This past week, we saw news that a package deal on a “jobs” bill between Democrats and Republicans was scuttled. According to the AP, “Senate Democrats balked at a broad bill stuffed with unrelated provisions sought by lobbyists for business groups and doctors.”
That’s out, so it’s in with the new:
The centerpiece of [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid’s new bill is a $13 billion payroll tax credit for companies that hire unemployed workers. The idea, by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would exempt businesses hiring unemployed workers in 2010 from the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax for those hires. It also would provide an additional $1,000 tax credit for workers retained for a full year and deposit an additional $20 billion into the federal highway trust fund – money that would have to be borrowed. There’s also $2 billion to subsidize bond issues by state and local governments for large infrastructure projects
But . . . what is all that stuff?
Why is Congress slapping together bills and—before they’re even introduced—selling them as done deals?
The American public wants to know what they’re getting. It’s like Congress is an anti-Santa—wrapping up and delivering us packages that we don’t necessarily want.
The PBS NewsHour had a segment Friday discussing the extremely low esteem the public has for Washington. The comedy team of Shields and Brooks—er, sorry—commentators Mark Shields and David Brooks—followed up on the public opinion story, and Brooks said something interesting about transparency and Congress:
Bill Galston, who is at the Brookings Institution . . . has a line that government should be shrouded for the same reason middle-aged people should wear clothing, that you just don’t want to see it, necessarily. And I think, as people have seen it more closely, because of transparency and because of TV, they: Oh, I don’t like that very much.
I think that’s true, but I don’t think it captures the whole story. Exposure of how Washington works today is displeasing to the public. For that dynamic to change, Congress has to change its behavior and start acting more like the legislature we learned about in civics class.
When President Obama was running, he gained support because of promises to post bills online for five days before signing them, to put negotiations about health care on C-SPAN, and so on. The public knows that government can operate in the sunshine, but the government is still not doing that.
With the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to serve as a senator from Massachusetts, the political alignments in Washington, D.C. have been shaken. Both parties are looking around to figure out how they can position themselves for advantage in the upcoming election.
It looks as though they’ll jockey for credit over whether “something gets done” or who gets blame if things don’t get done. That’s business as usual.
My guess is that “package” deals like the ones being batted around now are not going to win the public’s praise in any event. It’s real change in the way lawmaking works—things like earmark transparency, and follow-through on the president’s transparency commitments—that will restore appreciation of the government by a newly empowered and more aware citizenry.
And Santa can come just once a year, with gifts we actually want.