Shutdown Theater

If this cheerful prediction that it will take some kind of shutdown related disaster to get both sides talking and the government reopened doesn't make you incredibly angry, well then I don't know what to tell you- except that it's illustrative of a fact that, to me, anyway, is more of a threat to our democracy that the current occupant of the Oval Office: our legislative branch is increasingly moribund and ineffective.

Yes, that's right. To me, the real and growing problem is Congress. I'm not the only one who's tuned into this problem. Joe Rogan had Lawrence Lessig on his podcast talking about much the same thing. Despite the dubious motivations* behind a lot of these think pieces- there's been a raft of 'plans to fix the Senate' floating around out there. The New York Times, doubled down on the reform proposals offers a two part proposal on how to fix the House.

The ongoing stalemate over the government shutdown only throws the problems of Congress into sharp relief. While 800,000 Federal workers are going without paychecks- many of whom are, in fact, expected to work without pay, Congress still gets paid. They are some of the highest paid legislators in the world earning on average $174,000 a year. (They're not the highest paid. I believe that honor might go to Australia.) Some members are voluntarily not taking a paycheck, which is good. But the stalemate over the government shutdown that's now entering it's fifth week is turning into nothing more than a piece of political theater- albeit on the backs of 800,000 Federal workers who are going without pay and have missed one paycheck already.

Like so much of our discourse these days, it's all about posturing. It's all about virtue-signalling. It's all about pandering. It's all about whataboutism. While they're still getting paid, Congress has neither the motivation nor any conceivable reason to get off their asses and get something done to get the government back up and running. (It would also be interesting, given how diverse the the state legislature and their pay rates, to figure out what percentage of their time Congress actually spends of legislative duties and adjust their pay accordingly- because I doubt that it's 100%.)

Now, depending on your point of view or political leanings you could argue that it's not Congress' fault that the government is shutdown to begin with. In one sense, I absolutely agree with that point of view. President Trump has two years of Republican majorities on Congress to get his wall built and he couldn't get it done. He ended protections for DACA recipients and is now trying to offer a three year restoration of the very protections he ended in an effort to end the shutdown. (In his defense, his position appears to have shifted from a wall the entire length of the southern border to 230 miles of additional barrier.)

Where I disagree is the notion that Congress has to make a deal with the President in the first place. That's the real frustrating part about all of this. Congress holds all the cards here. Congress could negotiate a deal, pass it and present it to the President as a fait accompli. If he wants to veto it out of pique or symbolism, they could override his veto. When they're waiting for a couple of planes to collide or for an outbreak of foot and mouth disease to kick start or something, then something has gone terribly awry.

"But Mitch McConnell won't bring any bills to the floor!"

True. Cocaine Mitch is playing surprisingly sensible politics- from his point of view. No point in sending the President a bill he's going to veto. Fair enough- but this fact alone is why none of them should be getting paid. Their basic job function is to keep the machinery of government running. We can argue about the size and scope of government until we're all blue in the face- that's fine. But Cocaine Mitch is just one man. And there are 99 other Senators and 435 Congresspeople many of whom won't be as rich as him. Taking away the pay of all of them ratchets up the pressure on the leadership of both parties to sit down and hammer out a deal- either one they can live or one that the President can live with too.

They justify these salaries of theirs by citing the cost of maintaining two residences. That's fine. But when they fail at their most basic job functions, then they shouldn't be getting paid either. The Speaker shouldn't be going to Afghanistan. Lindsey Graham shouldn't be going on trips to Turkey. Congressional Democrats shouldn't be taking junkets to Puerto Rico. The First Lady shouldn't be taking military planes to Florida. The Treasury Secretary shouldn't be going to Davos.

All of them should be in session until a deal is done. Without pay, until a deal is done. Without their fancy insurance, until a deal is a done. And because the President has threatened to declare a 'national emergency' to build his damn wall, Congress should do the right thing, the proper thing, the Constitutional thing and work out a veto proof compromise that both Republicans and Democrats can live with and send it down Pennsylvania Avenue. If the President wants to veto, override his damn veto and re-open the government. Reassert the independence of the legislative branch and maybe remind the Executive Branch that they can only take their newfound powers so far.

*I'm getting real tired of the 'because we got screwed by [thing x] in the Constitution we should reform and/or abolish it to make sure our side doesn't get screwed any more.' That's a real dumbass way of thinking about it... the pendulum always swings back. If you want to reform or abolish something, that's fine- but don't think of it in terms of how it can benefit 'your side' (though it'd be great if we could do away with this tiresome political binary) think about how it can screw 'your side' as well. If both sides of the equation work well for your reform idea, then let's talk about it.  


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