COMMENTARY | President Barack Obama said in his weekly Presidential Address, which was posted to the White House website Saturday, that the continued strengthening of the American economy was dependent on bipartisan “shared responsibility.” He pointed to recent economic reports that show that the “recovery is gaining traction — and our most important task now is to keep that recovery going” and said he was “willing to work with anyone of either party who’s got a good idea and the commitment to see it through.” But the President’s willingness to work with Congress may not be the problem. The problem may be an economically irresponsible Congress.
Unfortunately for the American people, the last decade has shown anything but responsible governance by its elected representatives. From passing the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 and effectively repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (Banking Act of 1933) that eliminated prohibitions against separation of investment and depository banks, a move that precipitated the subprime mortgage meltdown and the Great Recession, to allowing the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses and continuing to pass unpaid for “emergency” defense authorization legislation underwritten by foreign capital to proposing and enacting tax cuts that undermined the U. S. Treasury’s ability to pay for normal and unprecedented budgetary operations, the U.S. Congress has shown itself to be quite irresponsible with regard to its economic stewardship.
There is absolutely no indication the 112th Congress, which convenes Wednesday, will act with more economic responsibility than its predecessors. It will get its chance, even if it was to do nothing until December 2012, in being given another chance to let the George W. Bush era tax cuts expire, therefore allowing the tax rates to return to the pre-Bush tax rates.
But there will be other bills, other measures, all geared to help stimulate or at least bolster an economy that is showing signs of a slow but steady rebound. And the problem will not be in that there will be nothing but poorly written bills or bills that curry favor to corporations over the public interest. The problem will be good bills, productive bills, bills that promote, restrain, prohibit, uphold, curtail or augment in the best interest of economic growth, but due to partisan politics, those bills will for one reason or another find themselves held up in committee, voted down, filibustered, derailed or rendered ineffectual in some way. The problem will be bad bills pushed through by wheeling-and-dealing, leverage or political blackmail that allows ineffective legislation, amounts to lip-service reform, or caters to special interests instead of the common good.
That common good was most recently dealt a disservice by the soon-to-adjourn 111th Congress with the economically ruinous passage of the reauthorization of the Bush era tax cuts, the results of which has assured an estimated $801 billion less for the U. S. Treasury in the next two fiscal years. Underfunding the government undercuts the governments ability to meet its financial obligations, pay its debts and operate. It also adds pressure to an already beleaguered dollar on the world market, devaluing currency, making foreign investment in America riskier and more difficult to procure — all of which restricts further the American economy.
President Obama is absolutely correct in that seeing the economy prosper is a “shared responsibility.” But Democrats tying legislation to bills they know Republicans won’t pass and Republicans playing obstructionist politics — or, worse, politicians voting through bills that give both parties what they want in limited degrees or bills that achieve a short-term fix — seems to have been the pattern for years.
There is no real reason to suspect that the pattern will be altered.
Now Democrats have control of the House of Representatives. With Democrats controlling the Senate, the jockeying for political position may become more entrenched, effecting gridlock. Bills will also be introduced from both chambers — each set under the control of the opposite party and more inclined to not make it through the second chamber if the measures get to a vote. And any legislation passed still must get past the President’s veto.
Economies are cyclical. Governments and their policies can enable economies or they can hinder economies, lengthening both positive and negative economic trends. Continuing partisan politics in Washington does nothing to resurrect the American economy, judging from legislative precedent. It is true that the 112th Congress has the potential to shed Democrat and Republican partisanship and work productively on an economic recovery that would benefit the vast majority of Americans. But will they?
Saul Relative holds degrees in History and Secondary Education, and he taught school in West Virginia in the ’80s and Virginia during the ’90s. A student of politics and political movements, he began writing articles covering the political maneuverings of the Bush administration in 2004. Saul turned to writing full-time in 2008, dividing his time between reading and writing about politics and entertainment.