For $1.2 billion, taxpayers should get more than Congress’s trial balloons

For $1.2 billion, taxpayers should get more than Congress’s trial balloons
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In retail marketing, BOGO means buy one, get one free. In Congress, the American taxpayers pay for two years of work and usually get only one.  

Even U.S. senators are aware of this. “The Senate has literally forgotten how to function,” Sen. Angus KingAngus KingDeadline for Kansas Senate race passes without Pompeo filing Memorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry Bipartisan senators introduce bill to make changes to the Paycheck Protection Program MORE (I-Maine) says in a New York Times story that also quotes Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseGraham postpones Russia probe subpoena vote as tensions boil over Clyburn: Cowed GOP ascribes 'mystical powers' to Trump Trump pushes back against GOP senators' criticism of dispersal of protesters in Lafayette Square: 'You got it wrong' MORE (R-Neb.): “Congress is weaker than it has been in decades, the Senate isn’t tackling our great national problems, and this has little to do with who sits in the Oval Office. Both parties — Republicans and Democrats — are obsessed with political survival and incumbency.”  

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When they spend the last six-plus months in session “campaigning,” we must ask, what are we paying for?

 

The work of Congress is over for this year. The results: Republicans lost on an ObamaCare repeal but won on tax cuts, and Democrats lost on shutting down the government over illegal immigration but won on the budget. Investigations have been fought to a draw with Republican-controlled oversight committees balancing out Special Counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s investigation — at least by providing good talking points and alternative theories on Donald Trump, Russia, collusion and obstruction.

From now until election day in November, there will be no DACA deal, no comprehensive immigration reform, no infrastructure package, no border wall funding, no entitlement reforms.  What we will get is increased partisan rhetoric as candidates seek to support, disavow or distance themselves from President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE.

Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesExperts warn Georgia's new electronic voting machines vulnerable to potential intrusions, malfunctions Georgia restores 22,000 voter registrations after purge Stacey Abrams group files emergency motion to stop Georgia voting roll purge MORE (R-N.C.), an anti-Trump Republican, has introduced H.R. 901 that calls on the White House to formally apologize for staffer Kelly Sadler’s statement that Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainKelly holds double-digit lead over McSally in Arizona: poll Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight How Obama just endorsed Trump MORE is irrelevant because “he’s dying anyway.” Will it pass? No. Does it serve to distance him from Trump? Yes.

With no agenda to speak of, Democrats have weighed in on Trump’s targeting of MS-13, the Salvadoran gang operating in the United States whose motto is “kill, rape, control.” House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: 'Scary' to see uniformed troops on steps of Lincoln Memorial Pelosi: Democrats to unveil sweeping criminal justice proposal Monday Pelosi demands Trump clarify deployment of unidentified law enforcement in DC MORE (D-Calif.) proffered a religious argument: “When the president of the United States says about undocumented immigrants, ‘These are not people, these are animals,’ you have to wonder, does he not believe in the spark of divinity?”    

Investigations continue on multiple fronts, providing all sides with ample opportunities to appear on 24-hour news outlets. Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald Nunes Sunday shows preview: Leaders weigh in as country erupts in protest over George Floyd death The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers MORE (R-Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee chairman, is constantly in search of more documents and complaining that the Department of Justice is foot-dragging. His counterpart, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) routinely dismisses the House Intel Committee findings about Justice and the FBI’s handling of the Steele dossier as “a profound distraction”— while he, too, fights an investigation into a presidential election.  

Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersMcCarthy yanks endorsement of California candidate over social media posts Top bank regulator announces abrupt resignation GOP pulls support from California House candidate over 'unacceptable' social media posts MORE (D-Calif.) has been calling for Trump’s impeachment since he was sworn in. “I say it is time to get ready for impeachment,” Waters said to roaring applause at the California Democratic Party’s annual convention. “I cannot wait and I’m counting on Special Counsel Mueller to connect the dots.” If Mueller can’t come to her aid using his Russian influence investigation, then she has threatened to impeach Trump for his reported comment about “shithole nations.”  

The political environment certainly is different in 2018. The Associated Press previewed its series, “Divided America,” by noting: “It’s no longer just Republican vs. Democrat, or liberal vs. conservative. It’s the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent, rural vs. urban, white men against the world. Climate doubters clash with believers. Bathrooms have become battlefields, borders are battle lines. Sex and race, faith and ethnicity ... the melting pot seems to be boiling over.”    

America and its political parties are changing dramatically; a political realignment is happening.   Candidates in both parties are lost. They are using this time to float trial balloons and tap into voter anger on both sides. They are polling and raising money, but they all know that they are running in a political environment that is as unpredictable as Trump.

Republican concerns have been exacerbated by a number of congressional retirements. “While roughly the same number of lawmakers in both parties are leaving their seats to run for higher office, just 11 House Democrats are retiring outright or have already resigned, compared with 27 Republicans,” The Atlantic reports.  

Democrats are not resting easy, having resisted all things Trump for 18 months. Lacking a unified agenda, many are moving hard left, floating ideas that include free college, universal health care, guaranteed jobs for all, $15 minimum wage, and even reparations for slavery.   Mostly, they are running against Trump and stand ready to disrupt any Republican initiatives.

Moderate Democrats are voicing concern. Willie Brown, former mayor of San Francisco writes: “Rather than stoking the base by attacking Trump, Democrats need to come up with a platform that addresses the average voters’ hopes and concerns, not just the needs of underdogs, or whatever cause happens to be the media flavor of the week.”  

In an interview in the New York Times, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said, “We need to focus less on what’s wrong with Trump and the Republicans and more on what’s right with us, and especially on how we as Democrats can lead us all to higher ground without fear and division.”   

Congress has its collective finger in the air, hoping to discover which way the political wind is blowing. Considering that it requires $1.2 billion to fund the operations of the House of Representatives, taxpayers should be livid. But, the public’s expectations of Congress have lessened over the years. Congressional approval hovers around 16 percent, well below President Trump’s 43 percent.    

The political “silly season” will play out much like it has before, with Congress light on work and heavy on attacks. The difference this year is, we have someone in the White House who will not necessarily adjust his policies to coincide with the election’s outcome. Trump will be Trump — at least for another two years.

Dennis M. Powell is founder and president of Massey Powell, a national public affairs consultancy headquartered in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. He has been involved in more than 300 political campaigns doing strategy, messaging, polling, and fundraising, including coordinating fundraising and outreach in Pennsylvania for President George H.W. Bush’s campaign. He was retained for six years by Trump Entertainment Resorts to build coalitions.