Congress needs changes, needs to scrap some bad habits
Several current messes in Congress are as pointless as they are maddening. Congress is dysfunctional largely as a matter of choice – one bad habit piled on top of another, decade after decade.
Make no mistake: That dysfunction serves an agenda, making reform or other change inordinately difficult and allowing every special interest under the sun to keep things as they are.
This is not government worthy of a great nation with much yet to achieve. It is a government that at best manages decay and decline.
Let's get down to cases. First, scrap the federal debt ceiling. It serves no purpose. To stop spending, vote down the spending. Saying no to the credit card bill after the fact is absurd. This periodic soap opera in Congress only rattles the stock market – taking money out of people's pockets – when traders are rightly worried about the nation's credit worthiness, and its competence. And this charade takes time and energy from other work in Congress.
Second, the Senate filibuster needs to go. It's not in the Constitution. It's an old Senate rule that in our time has been twisted – the mere threat to filibuster will do – so it takes 60 of the 100 senators to pass anything substantial without resorting to parliamentary work-arounds that slow the pace of everything. That's anti-democratic on the face of it.
Quick: Name one time the filibuster has ever been used constructively. It has a sad history, being used by those clinging – again and again – to the wrong side of history. Once it was the tool of the occasional grandstander. Now it corrodes the very idea of majority rule.
Third, enough senators have abused “holds” on presidential nominations to key government positions that that tradition needs to go as well. Missouri's Josh Hawley is doing this with State Department and Pentagon positions because the senator wants to stick it to President Biden in any way that he can. Meanwhile, serious people have actual work to do in Washington. Let the Senate vote up or down on their nominations, and let these people do their jobs.
Biden is entirely right about one salient and unavoidable fact: The United States of America is facing a test of basic competence. Others look to authoritarians in Russia, China and elsewhere and wonder why they shouldn't embrace those models.
Biden wants a big infrastructure bill to move the country ahead and to create jobs for working-class people. He wants to catch up on roads and bridges, he wants to retool the economy for future needs and opportunities, and he simply wants America back in the game. Fair enough. Debate that. Debate the merits. Debate the price tag. Skip the games. Then vote – up or down – and let's move on to the next thing. (How about a balanced-budget amendment?)
Our Constitution provides for a government under which big change is difficult, but actual practice has swung that way out of balance. This can be fixed. And it needs to be.
The nation has work to do. Congress should clear the dysfunctional underbrush and embrace a more serious purpose.