Political insanity overtakes Congress



The pope makes sense. Iran seems a little more reasonable. The Russians were quite helpful. And Congress is crazy.

This month, the pope made some sensible remarks about sex, and the president of Iran made some reasonable comments about nuclear weapons. Also, the Russians proved to be extremely helpful during an international crisis. Meanwhile, on the home front, our Congress appears too crazed by internal conflict to keep the lights on.

Our elected officials are loonier than Iran. Than the pope on sex. Less useful than Vladimir Putin.

Oh, dear.

Big deadline coming! In theory, by Monday, the House and Senate are supposed to have jointly approved 12 bills appropriating money for the various sections of government in 2014. The entire package should be a prudent rethinking of what various agencies really need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

This is probably not going to happen because, as of today, the number of said bills passed by both bodies is zero.

The very, very best we can hope for is that Congress will gird its loins, don its armor, march out into the field and pass an agreement to kick the budgetary can down the road before the federal office doors start slamming shut on Oct. 1.

“I’m tired of dilly and dither,” said Barbara Mikulski, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman. So say we all.

Mikulski is arguing for a short-term can-kick, to prod progress on real, serious spending bills. That, of course, would require a joint agreement on an overall bottom line. Which the House has refused to discuss.

There are many culprits in this story, but the big obstacle to any progress whatsoever is the small but mighty cadre of tea party Republicans in the House. The ones who are trying to tie funding the government to the death of Obamacare. They are egged on by people like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who kept his colleagues immobilized this week while he talked for 21 straight hours.

High points of Ted Cruz talking:

•  Comparison of his 21 hours with the “Bataan death march.”

•  Comparison of people who think Obamacare cannot be repealed with the people who did not think Hitler could be stopped.

•  Reading of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.

•  Reading of a speech made by Ashton Kutcher at the Teen Choice Awards.

The bit about Hitler appeasers drew an irate response from Sen. John McCain. “I spoke to Senator Cruz about my dissatisfaction . . . and he said he only intended it to be applied to pundits and not to members of the Senate,” McCain said. We would definitely have liked to be around for that conversation.

Cruz is basically a roadblock with a Princeton debate medal. But he’s managed to achieve what no one else, from the president to the American public, has been able to do in recent years: unite the vast majority of Congress around one great idea. Which is, in this case, hatred of Sen. Ted Cruz.

His 21-hour performance, by the way, was apparently not an official filibuster. But since nobody wants to discuss Senate rules, let’s just recall Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, when Sen. Jimmy Stewart stood up in defiance of his misguided or corrupt colleagues and filibustered until he collapsed on the floor. Then Sen. Claude Rains ran out into the hall yelling, “Expel me! Not him!” and “Every word of it is true! I’m not fit for office!”

Nothing this week was nearly that cool.

In his, um, extremely long speech, Cruz also claimed that the senators had spent “virtually zero time even talking about jobs and the economy.” Which isn’t true. For instance, they recently devoted quite a bit of time to a new budget for transportation and housing that would have added a lot of jobs to the economy. It died when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled the plug at the last minute.

We stop here now for a moment to recall some of the other sensible pieces of legislation that have passed away for no discernible reason except political insanity. It will be a quick, quiet trip, similar to the one the finalists on Survivor take to remember all the people who have been voted off the island.

We will not forget you, good old Postal Service reform.

Keeping you in our thoughts, bipartisan farm bill.

Rest in peace, gun control.

Till we meet again, energy efficiency legislation.

And we walk on, pretending not to notice immigration reform lying over in the corner, coughing pathetically.

So what happens now? The Senate is still working on the kicking-the-can-down-the-road bill. If we survive next week, there will be more cans and another fiscal cliff or two. Whoops! It’s time for the holidays.

Let’s cancel Christmas vacation for Congress. In fact, let’s confine the House and Senate in the Capitol until they make us cliff-free. If we don’t see any progress by Nov. 1, we take off the roof for the rest of the winter. No blankets until they become at least as reasonable as the Iranians. Or the pope on sex.

© 2013 New York Times News Service

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