Congress In Contempt, Part 1: The Fiscal Cliff Is Only One Example Of Congressional Failure

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"Congress In Contempt, Part 1: The Fiscal Cliff Is Only One Example Of Congressional Failure"

by Bill Becker

There was a moment when the Founding Fathers considered putting a provision in the Constitution that would allow citizens to recall members of Congress. The proposal failed.  As a result, only members of Congress can remove other members of Congress from office.

It’s a pity.  As the 112th Congress passes into an ignominious history and a not-much-different 113th Congress takes over, one wishes the citizenry had the right to kick members out of office not just during an election year, but any time they don’t do their jobs.  Clearly, members of Congress are not doing their jobs today. By one measure, 95% of Americans think lawmakers are doing a lousy job.  One suspects the other 5% are the members of Congress themselves, along with their staffs and families.

The fiscal cliff debacle is merely the latest case in which our derelict and dysfunctional Congress has put the nation’s families, businesses and the overall economy at risk.  Even though Congress reached a last-minute agreement on the fiscal cliff last night,  significant damage already has been done by the politics of brinkmanship. From failing to fund Superstorm Sandy relief to outright denial of climate change, Congress has proved itself particularly inept.

Consider: While Congress went home for Christmas without reaching an agreement on taxes and spending, some 12 million Americans spent the holiday jobless. Two million of them lost their unemployment compensation when the crystal ball in Times Square hit bottom at the cusp of the New Year.

The health of America’s small businesses was a significant campaign issue in 2012, but it doesn’t seem to be a concern on Capitol Hill now that the election is over. The prospect of higher taxes and deep cuts in government programs caused consumer confidence to plummet six points in December, the most important time of year for business earnings, even more important this year as the economy continues climbing out of the pit created by the recession.

Think back over the last two years.  The genesis of the fiscal cliff was Congress’s standoff on raising the national debt ceiling in 2011. Legislation finally was approved only hours before the federal government defaulted on its debts.  Citing this “political brinksmanship” as a sign that Congress is “less able, less effective and less predictable” in managing the nation’s fiscal affairs, Standard & Poor’s took the unprecedented step of lowering America’s credit rating.

After last November’s election, in which voters seemed to signal they wanted an end to block-headed partisanship, congressional leaders expressed optimism they’d reach a deal  on taxes and spending before the end of the year. The fiscal cliff debacle indicates, however, that Congress didn’t get the message from voters or from Standard & Poor’s.  And another big cliff is just ahead: The need to raise the debt ceiling again in the next few weeks. The possible consequences of another standoff have been described by Jonathan Masters of the Council on Foreign Relations:

Many analysts say congressional gridlock over the debt limit will likely sow significant uncertainty in the bond markets and place upward pressure on interest rates. Rate increases would not only hike future borrowing costs of the federal government, but would also raise capital costs for struggling U.S. businesses and cash-strapped homebuyers. In addition, rising rates could divert future taxpayer money away from much-needed federal investments in such areas as infrastructure, education, and health care…Speaking to the Economic Club of New York in November 2012, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke warned that congressional inaction with regard to the fiscal cliff, the raising of the debt ceiling, and the longer-term budget situation was creating uncertainty that “appears already to be affecting private spending and investment decisions and may be contributing to an increased sense of caution in financial markets, with adverse effects on the economy.”

Masters points out that for all the rhetoric about economic stability and fiscal discipline, the debt ceiling standoff in 2011 actually added to government waste and the economy’s jitters:

A 2012 study by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office estimated that delays in raising the debt ceiling in 2011 cost taxpayers approximately $1.3 billion for FY 2011. BPC (the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington D.C.) estimated the ten-year costs of the prolonged fight at roughly $19 billion.

 

The stock market also was thrown into frenzy in the lead-up to and aftermath of the 2011 debt limit debate, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging roughly 2,000 points from the final days of July through the first days of August. Indeed, the Dow recorded one of its worst single-day drops in history on August 8, the day after the S&P downgrade, tumbling 635 points.

Lawmakers in the modern era have been inept at timely decisions on spending in general.  American families found something new in their stockings this Christmas: The threat that milk prices would double after Jan. 1 because Congress failed to reauthorize the nation’s farm program when it expired earlier in the year.  Worse, farm experts warned the nation’s agricultural sector would be thrown into turmoil. As the year ended, lawmakers extended the program temporarily for one year, pushing the milk can down the road.

Last June, Congress finally approved a national transportation bill three years after the old bill expired, but only after 130 mayors from 36 states petitioned congressional leaders to finally get the job done.

Congressional cowardice is on full display when it’s time to approve the federal government’s annual budgets. Members avoided making tough budget decisions just before the November election by failing to approve a new budget when old one expired on Oct. 1. Congress finally approved a temporary budget bill just a week before the federal government would have been forced to shut down.  The temporary budget – still in effect today — essentially puts federal agencies on hold until at least next March, after the 113th Congress has been seated and when the next election is still 20 months away.

Stop-gap budgets have become a tradition in Congress.  As Brendan Greeley reports on Bloomberg Businessweek:

Since 1952, according to the Congressional Research Service, Congress has completed its spending bills by its own deadlines only four times—in 1977, 1989, 1995, and 1997. Year after year, lawmakers enact continuing resolutions to tide agencies over until appropriations bills pass. Fiscal year 2011—all 365 days of it—was paid for this way. Though a hyperpartisan year on Capitol Hill, it was by no means exceptional.  According to the CRS, 178 days every year, on average, have been funded through continuing resolutions since 1977. Basically, half the time there is no budget.

What are the consequences? More wasted money and government inefficiency. Greeley continues:

The uncertainty creates all kinds of inefficiencies,..(F)ederal contractors build a risk premium into their fees, charging back to taxpayers the extra uncertainty of potential funding disruptions. Agency leaders also have trouble staffing for new projects when there’s no budget. They have to resort to signing contracts on a monthly rather than an annual basis. Because every contract costs money to close, more contracts mean greater administrative and legal costs…

 

And the inefficiencies don’t end when the appropriations finally come through. Contractors or hires with critical skills may already have found other work. Agencies have trouble spending what they then receive before the end of the fiscal year.

Congress doesn’t tell us how much its tardy budgeting costs taxpayers, but it sometimes can’t hide the costs of partisan grandstanding.  For example, with important legislative work languishing, House Republicans held 33 votes to repeal Obamacare by July of last year, even though it was clear the Senate would never agree.  As Huffington Post reported:

While Republicans lambast the cost of implementing health care reform, a new report shows that their efforts to repeal the law have come at a major cost to taxpayers — to the tune of nearly $50 million…Republicans’ many fruitless attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act have taken up at least 80 hours of time on the House floor since 2010, amounting to two full work weeks. As the House, according to the Congressional Research Service, costs taxpayers $24 million a week to operate, those two weeks amounted to a total cost of approximately $48 million.

In large part because of delays in the Senate’s confirmation of President Obama’s appointments, Chief Justice John Roberts reported on Dec. 31 that “judicial emergencies” have developed in 27 jurisdictions where judicial vacancies have not been filled.   “The pattern throughout (President Obama’s) tenure has been uncontroversial judicial nominees…going nowhere on the Senate floor,” according to Jennifer Bendery’s analysis of last year’s Senate confirmation process on Huffington Post.

While extreme weather caused unprecedented levels of damage to communities across the United States in 2012, the 112th Congress avoided discussing, let alone acting on, global climate change. It failed to pass the Violence Against Women Act. Red and blue states have lost thousands of jobs in the emerging wind energy industry because Congress stalled on passing the Production Tax Credit for utility-scale wind development by year’s end.  And while bargaining to cut spending on programs such as Medicare and Social Security, lawmakers refused to touch sacred cows like the billions of dollars of unnecessary taxpayer subsidies Congress gives the oil industry.

Last November’s election was an opportunity for voters to discipline Congress for all of this. But even with public approval of Congress at one of the lowest levels ever,  91% of the members up for reelection in November were returned to office.

We appear to be a masochistic electorate and Congress appears to count on it and to holds us in contempt.  That’s not likely to change until we impose the discipline on it that it’s unwilling to impose upon itself.  How? I’ll offer some suggestions in Part 2.

Bill Becker is the Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. For more specific information about the Soldiers Grove experience and its lessons for other disaster-affected communities, see Becker’s report,  “Rebuilding for the Future”.

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32 Responses to Congress In Contempt, Part 1: The Fiscal Cliff Is Only One Example Of Congressional Failure

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    The House in particular has been an embarrassment lately. It’s a miracle that those clowns get anything done.

    Bill, is there a serious ground effort to defeat global warming denier Congressmen? I’ve heard discussions along these lines, but the DNC seems to prefer to remain silent on the issue. Outside organizations become weakened by having to work on the fringes.

    A few of the deniers were defeated in 2012, showing it would help the Democrats if they ran with this. Why aren’t they doing so, and are they capable of change? Alternatively, does the muzzle on Obama also come in Congressional sizes?

    • Bill Becker says:

      Mike, I must admit that in my project, I pay most attention to the potentials for presidential rather than congressional leadership on climate and energy security. But I am aware that after investing so much time and money on the failed attempt to get a climate bill through Congress, many foundations pulled back from funding organizations working on climate action at the national level. However, I’m also aware of work within the environmental movement to provide key congressional candidates with the ammunition they needed last year to press the climate issue in their districts. And groups like the Climate Desk and the Environment and Energy Study Institute in Washington continue sponsoring events to educate members of Congress and their staffs. In our narrow focus on the president, those of us involved in the Presidential Climate Action Project are pressing President Obama to do several things that would continue raising public awareness of the connection between climate change and extreme weather, and public pressure on Congress. For example, we’ve recommended the President make much more assertive use of the bully pulpit as each area of the country experiences some form of disaster, as food prices go up because of drought, etc. We were pleased to see that in his first post-election news conference, Obama said he wanted to start a national conversation about climate change. We’re watching to see if he follows through and we’re anxious to help. And as you know, we’ve proposed scores of ways over the past five years that the President can act on climate change using his executive authorities. Yours is a good question, though, and I hope some folks respond to help inform us both about current efforts to get Congress to do something.

      • John McCormick says:

        Bill, you’ve taken some hits on your comment. But, you set yourself up by reminding us the focus of your project was on the White House.

        You might sum this thread up by giving a concluding comment on what you have read thus far.

  2. Paul Papanek says:

    This article is not so good. Yes, it rightly points out how this “Congress” has blundered. But it blames “Congress” as a whole.

    That’s a mistake.

    In fact, this has NOT been a “both-sides-did-it” situation. Rather, the blame must fall squarely on the Republicans. The Congressional House leadership (Republican) deserves the blame for blocking bills on climate change, disaster relief, budget negotiations, and more. The Senate minority leadership (Republican) deserves blame for record-breaking filibusters.

    No. It’s NOT “Congress.” Rather, it’s the Congressional Republicans who are guilty here. They are the ones who have refused to govern.

    If the press, including the progressive press, would indict the real culprits, perhaps we’ll have a better chance of defeating them next election.

    • Brooks Bridges says:

      Yes!

    • John McCormick says:

      Paul, thank you for speaking clear truth.

      Yes, it is the rethugs in Congress who are the evil doers.

      I hope this year will bring more clear and focused comments to CP.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        In your polity, as in ours, one can only speak of the ‘worst of’ (fill in some scabrous category). No politicians that I can nominate here, or, as far as I can see, in your country, are anywhere near adequate to address the multitude of existential threats menacing our societies.

        • John McCormick says:

          Mulga, I hear you. But, give respect to Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and a few other Senators and House members greatly outnumbered but refusing to shut up. They are heroes needing support.

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            Pardon my excess. I still hold my observation to be true here, even the Greens quickly selling out. The so-called ‘Labor'(sic) Party is now distinguishable from the so-called ‘Liberals’ only by the brazenness of its corruption and selling out of its principles. Generations of my family supported the party, before the ‘neo-liberal’ pond life took over.

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            There I go again! My apologies to pond life for the unfair comparison.

    • Bill Becker says:

      Paul, I thought about this when I wrote the post. I concluded that unless we hold the entire Congress responsible for its failure to do its job, we’ll never get reform. There are a couple of reasons. First, some of the serious longjams are institutionalized in the Senate, now controlled by Democrats. A single member can block the President’s appointments, or call a filibuster. The Senate’s requirement for a supermajority to bring a bill to a vote subverts the principle of majority rule and keeps crucial bills from being acted upon. Second, while 95% of the electorate thinks Congress is doing a lousy job, 90% of incumbents up for reelection last November were returned to office. It seems that voters blame the other guys, not their own representatives. As it stands, no member or group of members is accountable to the country as a whole. I figure the only way to institute some measure of nationwide accountability is for all voters to hold all members responsible for a consistent record of congressional nonperformance.

      • john atcheson says:

        Bill:

        As you know, Reid et. al. can make a rule change on the opening of a new Congress with just a majority vote. There are a couple of thoughtful approaches being discussed that preserve important protections for the minority party, but set a higher standard for filibustering and blocking votes.

        In the old days, they used to call filibustering “Going to the Diaper” because you had to stand there and defend hold the floor for hours or even days if you wanted to filibuster. While cumbersome, this made it hard to stand in the way of popular positions and filibusters were used with restraint. Not so, now.

        Many of the problems you outline can be eliminated by either greater responsibility on the part of those filibustering (aka Republicans) or by rules changes in the opening of Congress.

        The point here is the abuses you outline aren’t the fault of both parties — it’s the Republicans who are abusing the rules, and the fix is either to change the rules or get rid of the Republicans or get more responsible Republicans.

        But it isn’t to pretend that “both are equally bad.”

        • Bill Becker says:

          John, I haven’t had so much fun since my first divorce.

          On your point about the filibuster rule, the record shows it has been used by both parties over the years to block legislation, appointments, etc. in recent history, Republicans have used it far more often than Democrats. But when the Senate majority was Republican in 2005, for example, Democrats used it to stop Republicans from eliminating the estate tax, confirming some objectionable judicial nominees and passing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. As I understand it, the cloture rule continues because both parties want it as protection in case they end up in the minority.

          You’re correct that the Senate can change the cloture rule by majority vote — the Supreme Court ruled on that in 1892. But it’s considered the “nuclear option”, and both parties have been reluctant to use it. Without the nuclear option, rule changes themselves can be blocked by filibuster.

          So, it will be very interesting to see what Sen. Reid and his colleagues do. With all the public anger about Congress’s inability to act, it would seem to be an opportune moment for change.

          Bill

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        The filibuster is one example of why ‘majority rule’ does not, and never will be allowed to, exist in capitalist societies. The rabble may be well controlled and thoroughly brainwashed, but the 0.01%, the real rulers, do not take risks and find it an affront to their egomania to have to rely on the passive acquiescence of the proles in their immiseration and coming destruction. The money power deployed in buying elections and politicians, and the total and absolute domination of the MSM are two other pillars of elite kakistocracy. The system does not work for the majority, and never, ever, will.To believe that it can be ‘reformed’ is the crucial mistake.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      What ‘progressive press’?

    • John McCormick says:

      Paul, the crazies are still among us. And, following the fiscal cliff vote, the baggers are in a royal rage. They are coming back strong.

      “In Ohio, Cincinnati Tea Party president George Brunemann said he looked forward to “having a conversation” with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who voted in favor of the measure.

      “I think you will see more challenges [in 2014],” he said. “I am deeply concerned. We always knew that we had some people who were willing to go to the dark side of the force. We now need to show that the Tea Party movement isn’t dead.”

      When are the progressives going to wake up to the fact those crazies are into it to the death?

      Wake up John Podesta and DNC and put a national movement together to defeat deniers. Heavy lifting? Yes. But, who among us has clout to call President Clinton and organize that campaign.

      We are desperate for leaders…not talkers.

  3. As Congress lurches from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, they carry the bulk of the media coverage with them. We all know that the media only has capacity for one story at a time, so there will never be a time for the climate story, until there is no other story to tell.

    When the House of Representative could adjourn without passing the legislation to appropriate funds for Superstorm Sandy relief, when they could only deal with a “farm bill” by extending the current provisions for a year, we have to wonder WTF they think they were elected to do.

    At the same time, I wonder about the role of social media in enhancing partisanship. We all get together here with like minds and similar goals. So does everyone else. Surrounded by those who think like we do, egging each other on, it makes cooperation less likely. As a Green who has participated in DailyKos discussions, I have felt the wrath of those who wanted me banned because I was “not a true Kossak.” I am not sure that this is conducive to solving the Congressional dilemma either. Case in point for fiscal planning is the fact that climate change adaptation is going to require large expenditures of money that the government does not have and we had better become frugal now or we will never have it.

  4. john atcheson says:

    Bil:

    Paul has it exactly right. this “pox on both their houses” approach is a big part of the problem.

    Look, you’ve got one party willing to put party over country; willing to vote against the interests of their own constituents; taking more corporate money; setting records on fillibustering; on and on it goes.

    To go from there to “Congress” is incompetent is misleading at best, severely damaging at worst.

    We can’t fix the problem if we won’t name it. Fuax balance has done more harm to this country than terrorism has.

    Republicans are the real problem. Who invented the fiscal cliff/ Who threatened to put the nation in fiscal default last year and is poised to do it again?

    And they’re doing it because they want to gut the New Deal and Great Society programs. And since the vast majority of Americans support those programs, they have to do it by starving the beast. This cynical and destructive bait and switch is at the heart of Congressional failures.

    Time to call a spade a spade.

    Read Ornstein and Mann’s book — it documents this in detail.

    • Bill Becker says:

      John, I’ll read Ornstein and Mann if you read my reply to Paul. I don’t see, but I’m open to hear, how blaming any one group in Congress changes things or would be more successful than what we’ve done in the past. I’m not trying to be nonpartisan and faux balanced in making the argument that the entire Congress should be accountable for its performance. But I do assume that in the 95% of voters who disapprove of Congress’s performance, there are Republicans, Democrats, Independents and agnostics who see this as a larger problem than a couple of dozen ultra-conservatives in the House.

      • John McCormick says:

        Bill, you might feel righteous in putting the blame on Congress and not the republican party. But, you are flat wrong here.

        Read what a loyal member of the republican party had to say about his party after being blown aside when the House did not take up the Sandy relief bill:

        WASHINGTON — Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is going after his fellow House Republicans after party leaders pulled a Hurricane Sandy relief bill from a floor vote on Tuesday, saying that New York and New Jersey residents should stop giving these lawmakers political contributions.

        “I’m saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds,” he said in an interview on Fox News. “Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace.

        Who would you blame for not reaching out to the victims of Sandy?

        Rethink your post and get into the real game.

        Defeating republicans in 2014 is the only hope we have to get a ‘Congress’ that will act in our best interests.

        Get some fight in you. Attack the rethugs just as Rep. King did.

        • Bill Becker says:

          John, Paul, et.al:

          Rather than arguing about who’s to blame, let’s move on to solutions. I’ll try to stir a solutions conversation in Part 2, which I hope to have posted soon. In the meantime, I’d welcome your specific strategies — beyond simply blaming Republicans, no matter how much they deserve it — for making the obstructionists in Congress pay a price. Short of us all moving to Tea Party districts to swing the vote, let’s have some ideas.

          Bill

          • john atcheson says:

            Bill:

            I mentioned some solutions — changing rules in the Senate to make filibusters more difficult only requires a majority at the beginning of a new Congress. That would go a long way toward removing the capacity of one person to block action there.

            The other solutions are much more difficult. Obviously we need to roll back citizen’s united. We need to do something about gerrymandering which is disenfranchising voters and increasing the polarization of the country. We need to restore the fairness act so that media can’t devolve into a gutless bunch of he-said, she-said stenographers — or worse, propaganda machines for and by the uber wealthy.

            These are challenging to say the least, and the temptation will be to say they are “unrealistic” — but they are necessary and the only thing more unrealistic is to think we can have a functioning democracy without doing them.

          • John McCormick says:

            Bill, I am going to propose what should be an automatic reaction by the big green, John Podesta and others with clout.

            Go thee to the DNC and have a face to face discussion regarding a full out campaign to enlist AGW candidates to defeat deniers and deadbeats. Mobilize young Americans to take up the task of mobilizing campaign coordinators and activists. Give them a cause they can call their own. We had our 1960s moment. They need theirs.

            The wealthy progressives have the means to bankroll such an effort and certainly have enough skin in the game to take the challenge seriously.

            LCV targeted five flat-earthers in the 2012 election and four were defeated. Tell me the big green and influential leaders cannot duplicate that effort by ten fold.

            We are failing when we wail and moan about a corrupt Congress while delaying or avoiding any serious discussion to launch a well funded campaign to turn the Congress around.

            Maybe that is too much lifting and we are getting older and less passionate about elections.

      • Congress’s disapproval rating it misleading. Approximately 45% disapprove because it’s not liberal enough, and 45% because it’s not conservative enough. With the electorate more or less equally divided, Congress will never be able to achieve more than a 50% approval rating.

        And there are more than a couple of dozen house members who are ultra-conservative. 154 Republicans in Congress just voted against the Senate’s tax hike compromise, and it took a bunch of Democrats to push the thing through.

        I agree with the others. Put the blame where it belongs. The Republicans have solicited the favor of racists (the Southern strategy), religious fanatics and free market fundamentalists (libertarians) to form the coalition that helped put the Neocons — who had a stealth agenda against all those groups — in power. That got us a stolen election (2000), two wars and a recession.

        Now the extremists have taken over the party, and the Republicans are nothing but an obstacle to every form of progress and even to treading water. Tell it like it is.

        • John McCormick says:

          Philip, you are ignoring a fundamental part of turning the Congress into a body of Americans having an allegiance to everyone and not the few tea baggers who are extyroting rethug votes by threatening their defeat.

          As voters approaching 2014 election, come to a decision to vote against the rethug incumbent or the non-progressive, bircher-type of either party, their decision will be weighed by the truth they hear and reflect upon.

          Right now, rethugs are being portrayed as cruel, vindictive and uncaring. We keep that image alive, in their eyes, and thinking Americans will vote accordingly.

          Listen to Mike Roddy and his demand the DNC and progressives take the messaging seriously.

          Do something ,John Podesta, to make something happen. Use your clout. We try but we are not where you sit.

          Where are the big green on this blog?? Are they not of us???? Do they give a damned what we say and think on CP or do they have a trademark to protect.?? Their silence answers that question.

          We talk. The big green market T-shirts.

      • john atcheson says:

        Bill:

        Thanks for responding. I did read your response to Paul, and I found it unconvincing. You are one of the most insightful thinkers out there, and I value your perspectives a great deal, and I wouldn’t make such a big deal about this in a public forum, if I didn’t think your were wrong on this very important issue.

        Here’s what Mann and Ornstein said in an oped earlier this year in the Washington Post entitled, LET’S JUST SAY IT. THE REPUBLICANS ARE THE PROBLEM:

        “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
        “Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.”

        Ornstein is a conservative, and Mann is a centrist, so this isn’t gratuitous barking from the left.

        Basically, we’ve got a party that is abandoning the Enlightenment and use teleological modes of thinking to support unscientific and empirically disproved positions on everything from Climate Change to Austerity budgets to how jobs are created.

        We can’t run a country on myths, and we can’t progress by choosing some middle ground between bat sh** crazy (no hyperbole — I’m quite serious) and reasonable.

        • Bill Becker says:

          John, I believe it was you from whom I first heard the idea of “violent agreement”. I think that’s what we have here.

          I agree completely that a small group of Republican ideologues are at the heart of the problem in Congress right now. I consider them the irrational wing of the Republican party. I think, and I’ve written, that GOP moderates have shown considerable cowardice in letting this wing be associated with and virtually take over their party. Moderates should have marginalized if not exciled them, because the Republican Party is becoming known as a fraternity of wing nuts, if it hasn’t gained that reputation already.

          However, I’m searching for a solution. Simply blaming the radical wing of the GOP doesn’t seem to have solved the problem.

          So I find myself drawing a lesson from days in basic training in the Army. When one guy in the squad screwed up, the drill sergeant penalized us all. It was amazing how quickly this got the squad disciplining its bad guys, helping the good guys and working together as a group.

          Call it a formative on-the-ground experience.

          The most direct way to deal with the inflexible ideologues, of course, would be for their constituents to vote them out of office. Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening.

          Bill

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Try Karp’s ‘Indispensable Enemies’ for another perspective, although the Republican Right has certainly entered the very outer limits of insanity and idiocy.

  5. Mary Harte says:

    Yes, Congressional gridlock is mostly coming from unrealistic Republicans. But some Republicans have heard the siren call of the 2012 voters and are forming a bipartisan clean energy group to extend the fossil fuel tax breaks to clean energy business in 2013. How do we mobilize more of them to action? Luckily, 2014 is already on the minds of all of them.

    So the next challenge is to mobilize ourselves out of our own environmental gridlock – where each green organization concentrates on its own pet projects, and none – I repeat, none – are focused, let alone collaborating, on creating a prominent Congressional voting bloc pressuring Congress with a clear set of politically accessible goals, such as enacting legislation that:
    1. stops subsidizing fossil fuels;
    2. promotes a quick transition to clean renewable energy;
    3. further boosts energy conservation and efficiency.

    If we do not hold Congress accountable with clear goals, they will not pursue them. But green organizations have yet to mold their members into a large, loud, and cohesive Congressional voting bloc. For example, I have yet to convince any green organization to form a Congressional clean energy voting bloc with a clear set of expected goals for Congress, much less support or promote an ongoing online campaign I have started for the same purpose: http://signon.org/sign/we-are-the-clean-99?source=c.em.cp&r_by=487176

    As journalist Christian Parenti on Goodman’s Democracy Now pointed out on January 2nd to Bill McKibben, divestment will not deter fossil fuel companies, many of which do not have stock offerings. It will spur publicity – but how will you translate that publicity into meaningful, powerful change at the governmental and corporate levels? The XL pipeline is a single battle. It’s time we mobilize our own green house to create a unified political movement to pressure Congress with a clear set of goals for winning the war on global warming.

  6. Ken Barrows says:

    95% hate Congress and 90% of Congress critters are elected. Humans are funny!

  7. Bruce S says:

    Tell me congress won’t give the military everything they ask for, tell me health care was more important than the climate when we( the democrats controlled both houses ) might have had a shot at it but someone took the count and guess what? The truth is money and the love of money is the temple that both parties pray to. Remember the last president said support the war machine and shop, and we did. We are humans , we are shortsighted, and we are running out of time. Maybe we need a party that’s honest enough to tell people we can’t have our riches and keep under the 2degree limit. Would we vote for some austerity or will we fight over the crumbs? The only way out is if enough people walk away, the system wouldn’t like it.

  8. John McCormick says:

    Mary, thanks for the comment: ” It’s time we mobilize our own green house to create a unified political movement to pressure Congress with a clear set of goals for winning the war on global warming.”

    Now, call, write visit the DNC and demand an organized campaign to defeat the deniers in the 2014 election. I’m doing that but hard to get their attention right now. If yu have a reasonable Dem in your District or State, contact them as well.

    You are right on point. Would that we would hear from the big green that they think as you do.