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 Stanley KingAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Senate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees MORE (I-Maine) says in a New York Times story that also quotes Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseJeffrey Epstein denied bail Acosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers Some good advice for Democrats to ignore in 2020 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) Swan MuellerThis week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Top Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction 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 TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' MORE.

Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic infighting threatens 2020 unity Heavy loss by female candidate in Republican NC runoff sparks shock Greg Murphy wins GOP primary runoff for North Carolina House seat 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 McCainStephen Miller hits Sunday show to defend Trump against racism charges Michelle Obama weighs in on Trump, 'Squad' feud: 'Not my America or your America. It's our America' Meghan McCain shares story of miscarriage 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, Mnuchin reach 'near-final agreement' on budget, debt ceiling Wendy Davis launches bid for Congress in Texas Steyer calls on Pelosi to cancel 'six-week vacation' for Congress 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 NunesWill Democrats be up to the task of publicly interviewing Mueller? Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing House passes annual intelligence bill 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 WatersLawyer says suspect in mob boss killing believed he was on mission from Trump Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment 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.