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Proposing Legislation Is No Longer About Getting Things Done; It's About Scoring Political Points

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

In the last couple of weeks, Jon Stewart has nailed in on a couple of issues, including how the media has treated the threat of ISIS and the United States' response to that threat. On Tuesday, Stewart had a segment about what congressional productivity (or lack thereof) actually means.

In the hyper-partisan political environment that has resulted from decades of maneuvering by the major political parties to rig the game in their favor, not only is the current Congress the least productive in modern U.S. history, but when legislation is proposed by either party -- whether it is the Republicans in the House or the Democrats in the Senate -- it is not about problem solving as much as it is about scoring political points for an election.

Many people will bring up the 54 times House Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as Obamacare) as evidence of this, but it is not just the Republicans. When lawmakers like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) propose a straight-line agenda about raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing equal pay for women, lowering student loan rates (called the "Fair Shot" agenda), they do so knowing that those proposals will not pass, but it makes fine fodder for campaign ads.

Remember during the government shutdown when every day the leaders of each side came out just to say how much it was the other side's fault? There was no discussion of actually trying to get productive legislating done -- just an opportunity both sides felt they could capitalize on by getting some extra face time to score a few points in what has become only a game to both parties.

Campaigns have spent millions of dollars on ads attacking opponents for not voting on legislation that was intentionally designed to be a trap. Because this is what the American political environment is -- it's us-versus-them. Since lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have decided they cannot agree on anything and can't work together, they have decided that legislation should serve a different purpose -- to win elections.

As Jon Stewart said, "Welcome to your new Congress, people."

When lawmakers on both sides of the aisle do happen to come together on an issue, it is either to waste time or pass a bipartisan piece of legislation that won't actually do anything to fix any problems.

Lawmakers passed a bill in the wake of the VA scandal to "fix" the VA. However, their solution was simply to throw money at the problem and the media would report on it as bipartisan cooperation -- everyone wins, except, of course, the nation's veterans.

And since the current system has lawmakers in campaign mode all the time, this approach to legislating is not likely to change anytime soon. As soon as the 2014 elections are all said and done, the Republicans and the Democrats will start forming new straight-line agendas and legislation that intentionally has a snowball's chance from the very beginning for the 2016 election.

The question is, could the 114th Congress possibly be even less productive than the 113th Congress? Is that even possible? I suppose we will find out soon enough.

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