Where's Congress?

Friday, October 9, 2009

A record of bickering and partisanship, not legislative accomplishment

With nuclear proliferation, terrorism, economic dislocation and potential environmental disaster all on the table, these are challenging times for Congress. Unfortunately, there are signs our elected representatives in Washington may not be up to the job.

The partisan bickering and shortsighted leadership that produced chronic gridlock on Capitol Hill in recent years have if anything worsened since the Democrats expanded their majorities in January and the Republicans adopted a negative strategy.

Democratic leaders, seemingly confused and easily distracted, give new meaning to the old cliché of a circular firing squad. GOP leaders seem far more interested in bringing down a president they dislike intensely than finding solutions to pressing national problems. Compromise has become a bipartisan dirty word as lawmakers work harder to score talk-show points than build records of legislative accomplishment.

Congress may pass a compromise health care reform measure this year, but the debate so far has been disheartening, and most signs point to the passage of something so watered down by special interest lobbying that the core problems — including soaring health care costs and growing disparities in care — will continue.

Immigration reform? Forget it; lawmakers are way too busy playing partisan games and legislating goodies for their own districts to address the issue, a priority for many Jewish groups. Last year’s financial collapse highlighted numerous weaknesses in a regulatory system that had not kept pace with developments in the industry. Where is the carefully crafted legislative response? We’re still waiting.

Tougher Iran sanctions may be in the offing, which will please pro-Israel groups, but don’t look to this Congress for thoughtful, creative responses to a problem that is growing more challenging and urgent by the day.

This was supposed to be the year when the stars aligned for passage of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, a top concern for numerous Jewish groups. Well, maybe next year.

Nobody expects quick and painless fixes. The sheer volume of complex problems facing lawmakers is daunting, and serious legislation in these angry times is fraught with political risk.

But so far, this Congress’ accomplishments are more in the realms of rhetoric and partisan skirmishing, with serious legislating generally taking a back seat. And that’s a major setback for a nation facing huge problems that won’t go away by themselves.

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