Sunday, July 01, 2012

Governing as an Afterthought

Washington ends a stunning week with a shutdown by Nature to mirror the power failure of its denizens to connect government to actually running the country.

On Friday, after all the John Roberts sturm und drang, the electrical outage is an apt metaphor for spending so much energy parsing the politics of health care before, practically unnoticed, passing some real legislation.

Over diehard Tea Party resistance, House and Senate finally send the White House bills to extend federal highway, rail and transit programs for 27 months with $120 billion in spending, financed by current gasoline and diesel taxes with about $19 billion in transfers from the Treasury.

A $6.7 billion agreement on student loan extends current 3.4 percent interest rate for one year, financed by changes in pension laws and a restriction on the length of time students can get the loans.

A flood insurance program increases premiums and requires people living near levees to have coverage.

Such compromises, which used to be usual legislative give-and-take on lawmaking, are reminders of how far government has drifted from its true purpose into toxic combat for future political advantage, of how politicians, pundits and public are focused on who wins and who loses to the almost total exclusion of the traditional function of agreeing one way or another on what’s best for the country.

On Independence Day, Americans will recall that the Founding Fathers, before taking their drastic step, noted that “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

The Founding Fathers were not foreseeing or approving constant changes in American government driven by passions aroused by the overheated rhetoric of 24/7 media. Their prudence, along with their passion, should be celebrated.
Update: The Washington Post notes: “The past two weeks represented a final chance for lawmakers to pass substantive legislation before the fall election, and a look inside the Capitol over the days before the Fourth of July recess reveals that this Congress, with its reputation for acrimony and gridlock, may be finally learning how to do its business.

“But only after it has done everything else.”

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