As the final year of the 113th Congress began in January, cockeyed optimists (of whom I was one) imagined that there might be a window for legislation before the midterm election. Democrats and Republicans have since failed to find a formula to extend long-term unemployment insurance, and Republicans are resisting an increase in the minimum wage. Speaker John Boehner couldn’t persuade his caucus to move forward on immigration reform. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid told the president to forget about the trade promotion authority he had requested in his State of the Union address.
Under pressure from his party’s left, Mr. Obama removed last year’s proposal to switch to the chained-CPI method of measuring inflation from this year’s budget proposal. Reluctant to offend either organized labor or the environmental community, the president is delaying the long-deferred decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. Although House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp is releasing a proposal for comprehensive tax reform on Wednesday (see his op-ed on a nearby page), Senate Republicans are unlikely to make a deal before finding out whether they will control their chamber next January.
For those who believe that good government does as little as possible, 2014 will offer no end of satisfaction. Between them, the parties’ congressional leaders have taken just about everything significant off the agenda, and President Obama’s forthcoming budget is designed to rally his party’s base rather than present a program with a realistic chance of enactment.
I’m reminded of the famous scene in “A Night at the Opera” where, provision by provision, Groucho and Chico rip a draft contract to shreds. Now, as then, there ain’t no Sanity Clause.
All this makes a kind of awful sense. Leaders on both sides are determined to unify their troops for the midterm battle, and that means taking uncomfortable issues off the table. Immigration and the minimum wage divide the Republicans, trade and Keystone the Democrats. Why not postpone them to a better day?
But in today’s politics, that day never comes. In the endless struggle for power, policy making is squeezed out. No wonder our friends overseas are coming to doubt our capacity for self-government even as the American people are losing hope. Read the rest of this entry »