WASHINGTON – For 72 hours last week, the entire capital region knew stark terror. The dancing maps on television promised flying white smut, frozen death – out there in your car where you’re alone in the howling dark. Squads of TV weather people whipped millions into a frenzy, forcing schools and businesses to shutter for two days, and part of a third.
The cause was a thin coating of highway ice that melted in an hour or two, and roughly an inch and a half of snow that disappeared by noon.
To those of us raised where there is real winter, the panic that grips here is laughable. But it is now all the more understandable because there is nothing left to distract this immense news grinder but the next wave of isobars.
The word gridlock doesn’t do this situation justice. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been left twiddling her thumbs while paralysis kills her bill to curb some of the 25,000 sexual assaults in the military every year. Sen. Charles Schumer’s justifiable worries about Iran’s nuclear war capabilities are twisting in the wind.
Both these senators from New York are in the political majority. So now, both Democrats are touring our state playing small ball on grants about fire hydrants and water mill restorations.
Legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin noted that a gun control bill strengthening background checks that was supported by 92 percent of those polled died quietly in the Democratic Senate. That was shortly after President Obama was sworn in for a second term.
The House Thursday night went home for the year without extending unemployment insurance benefits while corporate lobbyists conspired to put more American workers on the streets with an oncoming transpacific free trade bill.
The House Republican leadership already announced the GOP won’t pass anything like the comprehensive immigration revision bill that the Senate did.
So the public, whose esteem for Congress has slipped to historic lows, has a reason to ask: What do these 25,000 members and their staffs here and at home do all day? They answer the phones, move paper around and keep track of events.
The great two-year House compromise on the budget was a mere bookkeeping event. It does not reduce spending or limit entitlements, and it puts off aspects of the sequesters for two years. The sequesters, across-the-board spending cuts agreed to by Congress and Obama two years ago, were the only real limits on runaway spending. They did not cut outlays for Social Security or Medicare.
This is very sad to say: Other than being forced to play small ball like Schumer and Gillibrand, most members have literally done nothing but raise campaign money since the Republicans were returned to power in the House in 2011, and the Senate stayed Democratic at the same time. I’ve never seen anything like this stagnation in my 32 years here. This president will not negotiate, or talk or even engage with people on Capitol Hill who disagree with him. And so nothing moves.
Now both sides wait until next November.
The Republicans hope that the mess that White House falsehoods and incompetence have created with Obamacare may help them retain House control and maybe win the Senate. The Democrats, for their part, hope the GOP continues to tear itself apart in next spring’s primary season, spending trainloads of money trying to transform it into a rich white man’s club.
The fault lies not with the system, or with the basics of the Constitution. The people have lost control of their government because of their failure to vote and because the Supreme Court four years ago ruled that unlimited, secret money is free speech.