A Train Wreck Scenario?

At the end of every Congress, observers and members speculate on a "train-wreck scenario" in which Congress fails to pass spending and other important bills and gridlock ensues between the parties or between the White House and Congress. Happily, this situation seldom plays out, but there are ominous signs that we could be headed for a bad ending to this session of Congress.

Consider the "must-do" items still on the agenda with two weeks to go before the House leaves and three weeks before the Senate calls it quits. In this short period of time, Congress still must pass:

• 11 appropriations bills to fund most of the federal government
• funding for American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan
• a defense authorization bill to continue many programs the Pentagon deems vital
• a reauthorization of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA) to allow us to continue to keep tabs on our enemies abroad
• a fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), lest 33 million Americans pay this arbitrary and unfair tax

Some of this vital legislation might have already been passed if Congress had been doing its job for the first 52 weeks of the year rather than playing politics. For example, the DoD authorization bill is being held up because liberal members want to attach a totally non-germane provision dealing with hate crimes.

We might also have more progress with the troop funding bill if Congress hadn’t had to cast upwards of 40 separate votes to end a war that we are now WINNING. We might have had an AMT fix by now if Congress didn’t try to attach a massive tax increase to the same bill. We might have had FISA reauthorization if Congress didn’t cave in to the trial lawyers and not provide immunity from lawsuits for telecommunications companies that cooperate with defense officials to help identify foreign terrorists.

In other words, these problems are not insoluble if Congress will for once take the long view and legislate for the national interests, not for special interests.

Congressional leaders should remember this: A train wreck is never a good thing on your watch.