The Failure of Congress and the Press to do Their Jobs

Congress has departed from an entire week and a half of work (after 5 weeks off) for another 8 weeks away from Washington (wouldn't it be nice to have 13 weeks off out of 15?)

Both Houses have passed a continuing resolution to fund the government until after the midterm elections so that Congressmen and the Senators running for reelection can go home and campaign. 

This sequence simply represents a fundamental dereliction of duty. Why? Because Congress has not passed ANY of the thirteen appropriations bills that it must pass to fund the government for the next fiscal year. I cannot think of a more basic Congressional task than to fund the government (and not in 3 month increments at last year's levels). 

People talk about wasteful spending, well if everything is just on autopilot, and funding levels aren't adjusted, assessed, etc., it's hard to figure out what spending is useful and what is wasteful. 

Congress has avoided doing its job for a number of reasons. 

Neither side has any desire to compromise on priorities, especially in an election year. Additionally, Republicans want to attach policy provisions that President Obama dislikes in the hopes that he won't risk shutting down the government to keep them from becoming law.  

Further, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid does not want to put appropriations bills on the floor, because he would open his at-risk senators to having to vote on non-germane amendments designed to ensnare them in electoral traps (for example, votes on hot button issues like the EPA's new emissions rules).

Both sides figure that it will be easier to pass these bills during a lame duck session after the elections (after all, who cares that the fiscal year starts on Oct 1?). But even then they will have to combine all 13 appropriation bills into one bill that is hundreds of pages long and contains countless policy riders. This bill won't receive the scrutiny it deserves because Congress will be pressed for time, and members will want to go home for the holidays (sensing a pattern here?) 

Inevitably there will be unforeseen consequences and errors in this bill and/or provisions that half of Congress didn't know were in there. That's just how it goes when you have to pass 1 mammoth bill covering the entire government on a short timetable. 

Without delving into who is to blame for this mess, it's disgraceful that Congress would go home without at least trying to hold a normal appropriations process. Heck, I'd like to see a statute passed preventing Congress from recessing until these bills are passed each year. 

Funding the government by continuing resolution might not seem like a big deal—after all there won't be a government shutdown. Nonetheless, it hurts the ability of government agencies to plan responsibly and to do their jobs well. (They have to shift funds around to deal with lower funding levels, they have no certainty, etc)

There is another culprit for this mess— the press. This sort of irresponsibility should result in loud and universal condemnation. Editorials, television commentaries, Daily Show segments, Sean Hannity beating his desk (if you don't get the reference, watch this video). If the press took Congress to task in a major way, it might prompt a backlash from the electorate that forces Congress to act more responsibly. 

Some members of the press undoubtedly will write such columns ( Rachel Maddow, Jonathan Weisman, and Norm Ornstein, among others, have already commented on how little Congress is working). But there won't be enough of them for Congress to feel any heat, or even for the public to sufficiently understand what is happening. 

In fact, a new Annenberg Public Policy Center study shows us that Americans are basically clueless about our government. (35% of those surveyed couldn't name a single branch of government and 21% think that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration). 

Thus, for the public to rise up against a Congress that can't even do its most fundamental job, this dereliction of duty would need as much attention as the NFL's current problems are receiving. 

Absent that, Congressmen will continue to do what is electorally convenient, ignoring their most basic responsibility because it suits their partisan and individual needs.