Our completely inept Congress
© Greg Nash

Over the past several weeks, a clogged cesspool smelling up the neighborhood has been the best metaphor one can use to describe the U.S. Congress. The body is paralyzed in election euphoria, with House and Senate leadership and individual lawmakers more interested in introducing bills that they know won't get passed or even debated on the floor. It doesn't matter what subject we are talking about, because the result is seemingly the same: Nothing is getting done. And in the process, partisan animus is reaching a boiling point that the American people haven't seen since the nearly three-week federal government shutdown in September 2013.


On guns, Republicans and Democrats are at a predictable standstill between measures that would slap a blanket denial of firearms transfers to individuals who happen to find themselves on multiple terrorism watch-lists and measures that critics argue provide the government with an insufficient amount of time to prove to a court that the individual should be denied a gun. The terrorist gun loophole problem is now one of those terms stuck in the congressional lexicon and synonymous with failure — every single attempt to address the issue in current law has either been stalled or defeated in series of meaningless roll call votes. Denying firearms to people on government watch lists? Defeated. Denying firearms to people on the no-fly list? Defeated. Letting the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court vet the names of those who should be blocked from purchasing a gun? Well, that amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) hasn't even been voted on. What Americans are left with is a 26-hour sit-in by House Democrats, who hoped to elevate the problem of gun violence in America.

On appropriations, the situation isn't much better. While the Senate Appropriations Committee deserves immense credit for clearing all 12 appropriations bills on a bipartisan basis at the earliest possible date since the late 1980s, the funding requests have hit snags on the Senate floor. Concerned that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Graham calls voting rights bill 'biggest power grab' in history The wild card that might save Democrats in the midterms MORE (R-Ky.) will nullify the Bipartisan Budget Act and eliminate the parity between the defense and non-defense accounts, Senate Democrats blocked the Defense appropriations bill from even coming to the floor for debate. It's hard to see how the Senate will be able to pass the remaining ten appropriations bills through the chamber and reconcile them with the House before Sept. 30, particularly when lawmakers are getting ready to go home for a seven-week vacation to campaign.

On the Zika virus that is spreading within our hemisphere, Republicans and Democrats have embarrassed themselves for all Americans to see. A virus that every single politician in Washington recognizes as a significant public health concern is likely to get worse during the summer months. Compounded by the inability of Congress to pass emergency money that the Obama administration is asking for, the Zika virus could turn into a manmade catastrophe.

The $1.1 billion that House and Senate Republicans are pushing is not only $800 million short of what the White House has requested, but is also littered with the kinds of ideological poison-pill riders that make Democrats on Capitol Hill squeamish. Rather than authorizing clean money for Zika prevention and treatment and treating the virus as a public health and national security emergency, Republicans have chosen to make the issue about something else entirely. Existing accounts have been raided to pay for the Zika request, including $500 million taken from the ObamaCare account and $100 million from the Ebola virus fund. To add a cherry on this horribly tasting cake, none of the money in the bill will be allowed to make its way to Planned Parenthood, an organization which would be one of the more effective in the prevention and treatment process. Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBiden fails to break GOP 'fever' Nevada governor signs law making state first presidential primary Infighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms MORE (D-Nev.) called the GOP conference report on Zika "the most irresponsible piece of legislation I have ever seen." It's difficult not to argue with the sentiment.

Lest we forget, Congress has still refused to formally authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), despite the campaign approaching the two-year mark with a price tag of at least $7.5 billion. Nor has the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled hearings for Judge Merrick Garland, four months since President Obama nominated him to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Whether we would like to blame it on a hypertension-inducing election season or good old-fashioned partisanship, the result is the same: a legislative branch that is completely inept at a time when very important issues are on the docket. If the United States were a true meritocracy, most of lawmakers that are fundraising in their splendid offices would need to prepare for a job search next year.

DePetris is a Middle East analyst for Wikistrat, Inc, a geopolitical risk consultancy, and an independent foreign policy consultant.