Instead of addressing the tough choices before it on jobs, the deficit and budget issues, Congress has been having a series of "message votes" allowing members to rally their core supporters, even though they know the legislation they are voting on has no chance of passage.
The most recent example of this is the failed Blunt amendment -- the amendment to the highway bill put forth in the Senate last week by Missouri Republican Roy Blunt. Puns about the rubber meeting the road aside, the Blunt amendment would have allowed any employers "with moral objections" to opt out of not only the required birth control
coverage but any health service for their workers contained in the 2010 health reform law with which they didn't agree.
Maine's Olympia Snowe was the only Republican Senator to oppose the Blunt amendment, reinforcing what a pivotal role she has played in the Senate and how much she will be missed.
In announcing her departure from the Senate last week, Snowe bemoaned that "an atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies has become pervasive," adding "I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term."
Snowe, along with fellow Maine GOP moderate Susan Collins, has one the most independent records in the Senate, voting with the GOP leadership only about 70 percent of the time.
"I believe we have seen a steady increase in the partisanship and the personal attack mode of politics over the last decade that has resulted in a political climate that is as partisan and gridlocked as I have ever seen it," observes Republican Senator Michael Crapo of Idaho, who has served in Congress for 20 years.
That means it's extremely tough to actually legislate. Both parties dream of a world in which they control the presidency and both houses of Congress, but that would do little to solve the problem of our divided politics. Indeed, when Democrats did control everything during the first two years of the Obama Administration, they passed health-care reform without a single Republican vote. Republicans are still campaigning on this and trying to repeal the law.
According to Bloomberg News, Congress passed just 80 laws in 2011, the lowest number since the Congressional Record began keeping an annual tally in 1947. One-quarter of those were naming post offices and other federal buildings and appointing members to the Smithsonian Institution's Board of Regents.
It's been years since Congress actually passed a budget and handled the appropriations bills for each federal agency the way it is supposed to, rather than bumping up against deadlines and funding the federal government using massive catch-all continuing resolutions.
It seems Congress can only act when it is facing a crisis or deadline, which the $1 trillion federal deficit will soon again provide. Since the Supercommittee failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan last fall, a mechanism called a sequester was created which triggers
an automatic $1.2 trillion, 10-year across-the-board budget cuts that will take effect at the end of the year if Congress doesn't do something first. (That's if there isn't some kind of international monetary crisis first.)