Lemon Line: Our democracy, in shambles
Vail CO, Colorado
Your tax refund check this spring might not be in the mail. If funding is not approved, the Internal Revenue Service will be forced to cut back services and delays in processing will be inevitable. Congress thus far is incapable of reaching any agreement on the appropriations bill that basically funds our government.
The bill is loaded with more than 2,274 earmarks (modern, P.C. speak for pork barrel spending) amounting to $1 billion in pet projects. Sen. Arlen Specter (R) would get $885,000 for abstinence education in Pennsylvania, the AFL-CIO would get $2.2 million for the Appalachian Council and $1.5 million for the labor union’s Working for America Institute. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D) multi-million-dollar Hippie Museum at Woodstock was scratched at the last minute.
Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, bundled essential government services with pay for veterans and further funding for Iraq in a fat-laden bill in an attempt to stave off a presidential veto. But he didn’t have the votes to even get to the president’s desk, and once again partisan politics pursued peremptory posturing before the good of the country.
(Eagle County is not much different. The budget process is steamrolling along with little input or attempt to seek consensus. Department heads are excluded from process. Pet projects proceed unabated. Yes, certainly the form has been followed. Stiff public meetings are scheduled and not attended. And ultimately three people wielding enormous power decide the direction for 48,000 people).
Our political leaders are so concerned about power that they cannot govern. Our tax system is an annuity for accountants and lawyers. Government spending is still out of control. Health care is in shambles. Social Security is bankrupt. Education programs entrench the mediocrity of the status quo. Energy policy is hostage to competing extremist lobbies. We are obsessed with security while conducting our foreign policy as if there were no other people on the planet. The value of the U.S. dollar is in freefall. There is no immigration policy. But in the White House and in Congress it is not business as usual, but politics as usual.
There have been 13 appropriations bills, all have failed. Social Security reform is a non-starter. Health care programs get vetoed. Immigration bills fall flat. The energy bill is quagmired in the swampy morass of oil dependence, high-cost alternative energy fuels, and preserving pristine environmental conditions and the nematode or some other major life form.
It is no wonder that the approval ratings for Congress have fallen to an all-time low. Ranging from 11 percent (Reuters/Zogby) to 19 percent (Wall Street Journal) Congress has a worse rating than the dismal 29 percent of President George Bush. The inertia of political “rightness” renders our rulers impotent and rigor mortis is fast setting in to American democracy.
Voter turnouts across the U.S. consistently fall below 50 percent, Presidential caucuses average 10 percent, primary votes are only for the hardcore, and thus we are no longer governed by a majority rule. With political parties driving voters away from the polls to turn out their “base” to win elections, the label of democracy is a sham. Yes, we have the system, and are free to choose to vote or not to vote, but our current political climate is only about political power.
Unfortunately, this malaise will continue for at least three more years. The 2008 election is not about a new president, it is an all-out effort to consolidate power in Congress and in state houses toward the 2010 elections, when our federal and state representatives elected in 2010 will control the political lines to be drawn based on the 2010 Census. This is bad news for those of us expecting our legislative branches to accomplish something.
Somehow we have lost the ability to debate. Congressmen wrack up more hours posturing their views than actually articulating a clear premise. We no longer have representatives capable of stating positions clearly, listening to opposing views, and then working out a solution. Attacks are personal, disagreement tinged with invective. No one wants to truly solve a problem.
Will the IRS and the other government agencies get their money? Yes. There will be a rash of emergency bills, patchworks of appropriations, piecing together essential money so services can function. We will have no direction or policy, no coordination of programs, and waste made by haste will be the “operations du jour.”
What can we do? We need to let the political parties know that they have lost touch with the reality of the American mainstream. We are controlled by the fringe, and this inability to get things done leaves us less effective than the dictators we criticize so righteously. We can start here in Eagle County. There is no room in governance for partisanship.
Heather Lemon of Eagle-Vail writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.