The Congress We Deserve

The legislative branch's failures extend far beyond the debt debate


They failed to do their homework but got to go out and play. They failed to complete their job assignments but got to leave work early. They didn't eat their vegetables but got dessert. Our lawmakers utterly failed to help solve the nation's major problems-- from meaningful debt and deficit reduction to job growth to judicial appointments-- before scampering away last week for their summer vacations. Why we tolerate from our politicians what we won't from ourselves is both inexplicable and self-explanatory; we have the government we deserve, don't we?

Recent polls may reveal that American disapproval with Congress is at an all-time high. But we all know how this is going to end; the vast majority of these walking-talking-preaching-leeching failures will be reelected next November. Fueled by unfettered campaign money, the incumbents will innundate voters with attack ads that will scare people into thinking that, somehow, the alternative is even worse than the reality. And we'll slide along for another two years, at least, without squarely facing our problems no matter who is in the White House in 2013.

A third party? Please. Who's going to be on the top of the ticket? As Yogi Berra might say, "if independents aren't going to support Sarah Palin there's no way you can stop them." Michael Bloomberg? His courageous conduct over the issue of same-sex marriage in New York tells us he's no longer considering a national run. Ralph Nader? He was right about the perils of American corporatism but his time has passed. About the only person who could run and win as a third-party candidate is the only free adult citizen in America who cannot by law win the presidency in the election of Novembver 2012. That man is Bill Clinton.

When Standard & Poor's downgraded America's credit rating Friday evening it was merely calling bullshit on the lame debt and deficit deal the Congress and the White House have just made. It was doing what maybe 200 million Americans have done in the privacy of their homes over the past few months as the "debt ceiling crisis" played out to the detriment of the unemployment crisis. The gall of the Treasury Department to blame the credit agency for a "math error"-- as if our mountain of deficit did not otherwise exist. And the gall of Washington to put us all through the drama without coming up with a courageous, long-term solution.

Let's put aside just for the moment the economic catastrophe at hand. On my beat, the law beat, here's another example of the gross negligence of the legislative branch. As the lawmakers jetted off for their holidays, there were 88 judicial vacancies left unfilled across the United States, including 69 on the federal trial bench where the bulk of federal law is handled. This is so despite the fact that the Obama Administration currently has 53 men and women in nomination for posts. Twenty of those bright people were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and are waiting for a floor vote. Seventeen of those were unanimously endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Presented by

Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

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