With a little less than two weeks left in 2017, most Americans are winding down at the office and looking toward the holiday. Yet, Congress is just starting to get to work.
By its self-imposed deadline of December 22 (a deadline set after two delays), Congress still needs to: fund the government to prevent a shutdown, reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which expired more than two months ago, find a substitute for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and provide disaster aid for victims of this year’s wildfires and hurricanes, as well as funding to combat the opioid epidemic—to name just a few.
It would be natural to blame this last-minute rush on the chaos of the Trump presidency. There is no modern White House that has been as slow to staff the government, has cycled through as many senior presidential aides so quickly, or had to contend with a far-reaching investigation and indictments of two of the president’s most senior campaign aides all in its first year. Not to mention the unique set of challenges the administration has had to face as a result of the president’s Twitter habits.
But the reliance on last-minute legislating is nothing new. In fact, it has been the norm for presidents, starting with Bill Clinton in 1993 and intensifying with each of his successors. Ironically, policymaking in the United States is broken because its politics is not. For the first time in a century, the two parties have been relatively balanced, ideologically coherent, and deeply polarized from each other. This has produced a politics that is more competitive than any other in the postwar era. Come Election Day, anything can happen, and with a good chance of being dealt a better hand the next time the polls open, there’s no reason to cooperate. As a result, nothing gets done in Washington unless it absolutely, positively has to.