There isn’t much credibility left in Congress, perhaps none at all. In fact, the ceaseless C-SPAN sitcom we call government has offered plot lines from titillating tweets to illegitimate children, foreign lovers to shady cover-ups. But even their writers sometimes run out of ideas. Last week, when they thought you weren’t watching, they stooped to acting out their actual jobs: faking a vote on the debt ceiling.
A group of Republicans and Democrats alongside them turned sacred duty into dramedy. Pretending they would favor something they actually don’t endorse, they voted against their own beliefs and our national interests.
Of course, they first sold their banker buddies the good seats. Along with popcorn and reassurance that they weren’t actually planning a default on our debt, they were just pretending to do so in order to exact concessions.
These “leaders” admit that not raising the debt limit is untenable. Defaulting on our loans, we’re told, has the potential to wreck our economy. In fact, we’re supposed to be very concerned about this economy. It’s not “healthy”; it’s in “free-fall”; it’s “crumbling into ruin”.
But this belies the true damage these members of Congress seem intent to bring upon us. The economy is nothing besides the people that work, buy, save and invest within it. The collateral damage here isn’t to some numerical abstraction; it’s a serious and even fatal blow to Americans. We talk so much about the economy suffering; it’s easy to forget it’s actual people who stand to be hurt badly, over and again.
Even Republicans know raising the debt ceiling is not really negotiable. This issue is at core about whether or not we do what we say, whether or not America can be trusted. And raising the debt ceiling without precondition is about whether we make good on our promises not just to our creditors, but to each other. For all Republicans talk about not being able to afford things, it seems to apply only to food, health care, housing and electricity for their constituents. We’re flush when it comes to not collecting taxes from corporations, giving more to millionaires, subsidizing polluters and bombing other countries.
Without raising the debt ceiling free of conditions, we cannot honor our commitments to our grandparents who need to see their doctors and purchase their meds, to our children who need trained teachers and classrooms with heat and to our neighbors who need help when jobs are scarce and earnings don’t cover what life costs. Further gutting social spending will hurt those least equipped to sustain further injury. The jobless, the homeless, the young and the old will be the ones maimed.
With all this at stake, those of us without Goldman-sized bonuses to cover the cost of a heads-up beforehand are left watching in horror from the nose bleed section. This is a scripted show mocking not only we the people but the very exercise of elected office.
If voting among the masses is democracy in action – the votes of those we’ve voted for should be even more important. This is the logic behind representative democracy as our beloved Constitution has enabled it. This is the belief that has served us as a nation and as a people.
We all like to have occasional fun at the office. Some facebook checking, coffee drinking, office gossiping stress relief help the hours tick by. Republican House Members and some Democrats have turned workplace tricks into a dangerous practical joke on us, and we’re not laughing. This is the scariest kind of reality television. No more theatrics about our security and prosperity. Our elected leaders need to stop playing at their jobs and step up to do them.
By: Anat Shenker, AlterNet, June 12, 2011
At 9:36 a.m. on Thursday, a clerk with a practiced monotone read aloud the name of Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii). The chamber was nearly deserted. The senator wasn’t there. Not that she was really looking for him.
Instead, the clerk was beginning one of the Capitol’s most arcane rituals: the slow-motion roll calls that the Senate uses to bide time.
These procedures, called “quorum calls,” usually serve no other purpose than to fill up empty minutes on the Senate floor. They are so boring, so quiet that C-SPAN adds in classical music: otherwise, viewers might think their TV was broken.
This year — even as Washington lurches closer to a debt crisis — the Senate has spent a historic amount of time performing this time-killing ritual. Quorum calls have taken up about a third of its time since January, according to C-SPAN statistics: more than 17 eight-hour days’ worth of dead air.
When it comes to legislative action, 2009 and 2010 were an unusually busy period, with the Senate taking up some of the most consequential legislation in the generation. Maybe, the thinking goes, such an intense period of policymaking activity will inevitably be followed by a more relaxed schedule.
But the institution has gone from frantically busy to catatonic. One is tempted to hold a mirror to the Senate’s nose, just to make sure it’s still breathing.
David Fahrenthold’s explanation of quorum calls is helpful, albeit mildly soul-crushing.
A clerk reads out senators’ names slowly, sometimes waiting 10 minutes or more between them. But it’s usually a sham. The senators aren’t coming. Nobody expects them to. The ritual is a reaction to what the chamber has become: a very fancy place that senators, often, are too busy to visit.
This is what happened: Decades ago, senators didn’t have offices. They spent their days at their desks on the Senate floor. So clerks really needed to call the roll to see if a majority was ready for business.
Now, senators spend much of their time in committee rooms, offices and elsewhere. If no big vote is on the horizon, often nothing at all is happening on the Senate floor.
But Senate rules don’t allow for nothing to happen. That would require a formal adjournment, which would mean lots of time-consuming parliamentary rigmarole. Instead, the last senator to speak asks clerks to fill the time by calling the roll.
We’re not, by the way, talking about pro-forma sessions, intended to prevent presidential recess appointments. This is just the norm of the Senate most of the time, even during the course of its usual schedule.
Of course, senators could be doing something, at least in theory. The Democratic majority doesn’t bring bills to the floor, because they know Republicans will filibuster them (and even if they passed, the GOP-led House would never consider them). Dems could bring nominees to the floor, but Republicans won’t allow that, either. Dems could work on a budget, but they not only know the House won’t cooperate, but also know even trying would become fodder for attack ads.
“Why are we here?” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) asked. “The Senate is not operating the way it was designed, because politicians don’t want to be on record.”
Well, that’s partially true, but the Senate is also not operating the way it was designed because guys like Coburn filibuster everything that moves.
Regardless, let’s go ahead and retire “the world’s greatest deliberative body” description. No one appreciates the humor.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, June 10, 2011