Suggestions for the Lame Duck Congress

Folks have asked if I’ll offer another checklist of suggestions for near-term political action, now that the U.S. House of Representatives is about to pass into Republican hands. This new set of proposals would bookend the To-Do list that I wrote back in 2006, when the Democrats swept back into control of the House.

Well, it’s been an eventful four years, an era that proved my fundamental diagnosis… that most of our current political craziness is not so much about hoary-stupid “left-right axis” but rather by personality type. For example, Democrats are not primarily typified by “leftist” outlooks, but by a manic personality. A frenzy to try things. Indeed, nearly all of the pro-capitalism experiments that have been tried, in recent years, also came from dems. (An assertion I can easily prove.)

In contrast, although Barry Goldwater disowned the “neoconservative” sub-species as crazy and contrary to most classical conservative values, the one consistent trait that Republicans always seem to display (and did in Goldwater’s saner version) is the depressive personality type. Beyond pathological grouchiness, recent GOP politicians have also been among the laziest since the beginning of the republic, passing less far legislation (even when they held every branch of government), holding fewer hearings and proposing fewer bills — even on their favorite issues — than any other Congress in 100 years.

(Reminder: this appraisal hasn’t a scintilla to do with superficial issues of “left-vs-right.”)

But that psychological diagnosis is beside the point. The last 4 years have been frenetic, all right. So, shall I attempt once more to offer recommendations, now that the frenzied workaholics only have a few weeks left to try things? Since Nancy Pelosi and her crew saw fit to ignore almost everything my earlier catalog of desires, why should I bother?  The Democrats have scarcely more than a month, before depressive-phase gridlock settles onto Capital Hill.

=== FIRST, IS DIVIDED GOVERNMENT A BAD THING? ===

Don’t many of your neighbors ascribe to the nostrum that “divided government is best”? Indeed, there have been silver linings to past episodes of division. After Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Republican resurgence, Bill Clinton decided to turn his attention away from grand scale legislation* to becoming the best administrative president on record. Distracted by sexual witch hunts, the press paid little notice when JD Powers and other neutral analysts called the Clinton Administration the most efficient and well-run and… believe it or not… honest in US history.

(Despite Fox-rhetoric, not one Clinton era official ever went to jail, or was evenindicted, for malfeasance of official duties. Not one. The first time that’s ever happened in US history.)

If Barack Obama were to follow that course — simply tuning the civil service to deliver our money’s worth under current law — well that may be a disappointing fall-back.  But, since the core and central neocon aim has always been the undermining and ruination of the United States Civil Service (ask me why), its restoration under BHO would be a victory, of sorts. (You never noticed any of this?  Well, whose fault is that?)

(* Note: I leave out the strange year 1995, when Newt’s fresh-new Neocon Congress actually experimented with acting like grownups, seeking to achieve real accomplishments by … um… legislating! And by negotiating with Clinton and the Democrats. Certain measures that passed that year, under the “Contract With America,” were moderately impressive, including Welfare Reform and budget control measures that later enabled Clinton to clamp down and deliver the only substantial budget surpluses since World War II.  And Democrats who are incapable of parsing how 1995 was different than the deLay/deMint era are too-easily falling into simple-minded partisanship of their own.

(Alas, this brief era passed away with lamentable swiftness, as the Republicans dumped Gingrich and swerved into their ongoing weird combination of disciplined dogmatism, culture war, jibbering anti-intellectualism, and stunning laziness. Again note: this ain’t about “left-right” but sanity.)

=== ENOUGH GRUMBLING. HOW ABOUT SUGGESTIONS? ===

All right, then. Are there things I’d recommend for the coming political phase?  There are two time regimes to consider.

a) The remaining lame duck session of Congress.  (I’ll race through these.)

b) The stretch following Boehner’s installation as Speaker, until the 2012 elections. (I’ll save these for next time.)

=== CAN LAME DUCKS ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING? ===

Oh, they are scrambling. Pelosi and Reid and the Capital Hill Dems. Frenetic to getsomething done in the next 6 weeks, they’ll not pay the slightest heed to myrecommendations.  Still, here are a few.

1.  Limit any tax cut extension to 5 years. I believe the Bush tax cuts for the rich should be allowed to expire… compensated with a new-jobs credit and new equipment credit for small businesses. But if the cuts are to be continued, I agree they should expire in another 2 years.  In fact. all the rest of the cut extensions should be for no more than 5 years.

Why tie the hands of a future president and Congress?  Give some future Congress the same choice YOU now face.  In 2015, the economy may be much better, and we could get another chance to start paying down the mountain of debt. (The way adults do.) It will be easier, at that point, to not pass a continuation of some of the tax cuts, than it will be to pass an actual increase.

2. Appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Bush era corruption. Um, why hasn’t this happened already? Were you actually hoping/expecting to reason with fellows like Senator deMint? Were you trying to take the high road and set an example?  Were you that naive?

Wasn’t the whoring at the Minerals Management Agency enough of a smoking gun?  Enough cause to unleash a special prosecutor… and also to enact my other suggestion, to establish the office of Inspector General of the United States? IGUS would ensure that never again could a political cult take over Washington and turn the US Civil Service into its private brothel.

I believe a special prosecutor can be appointed by simple majority vote, without being blocked by filibuster. In any event, there is nothing more important that the Dems could do, during their remaining six weeks.  I’m especially interested in seeing light shone on the vetting of “emergency clause contracts” during our twin trillion-dollar wars, wherein massive amounts of American wealth simply vanished to Only God Himself Knows Where.  Appoint a Special Prosecutor! Unleash him.  And let Boehner just TRY to call him back.

3. Get the lame duck Congress to re-fund the Office of Science and Technology Assessment. Pre-pay the trivial cost for 10 years in advance, out of pocket change. Scientific-minded Americans have been urging of return of a nonpartisan OSTA, ever since 2006.  Rush this through!  And force the GOP to filibuster this blatantly moderate and reasonable act.

This is so vastly more important than the political caste seems to realize.  No other single act would better demonstrate that the Democrats favor the tradition of “reality-based decision making” that underlies the Enlightenment. No other single act would better show what side they are on, in the ongoing “War on Science.”

4. Give the minority party the power of subpoena. Yes this seems nerdy. But I explain in my earlier list of suggestions. This will seem self-serving if done right now.  Better if you had done it last year. But grab the chance.  Do it now… and force Boehner to yank it back.

I have tons of other suggestions. High priorities that I wish the Dems had chosen to work on, during their brief stint trying to catch up.  (And not one of my proposals had even a hint of “socialism” about it! Indeed, they were all remarkably pro enterprise!)  But it is clear that we are heading back to gridlock in a few weeks.  So I will stop yattering about those things…

…and talk next time about what ought to happen during the Boehner Era.

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