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The Republican Congress: Dysfunction on Display

by Stephen Erickson, published

Our political system no longer works, and neither does Congress -- well, except for itself.

The current Republican Congress, in particular, is on the verge of proving how utterly useless it is.

If there was one thing a Republican Congress was supposed to do, it was to repeal and replace Obamacare. Republicans have been campaigning against it since 2010. Yet they are failing those who elected them, yet again.

The problem is that our political system was designed to work only if our leaders compromised with each other. The founders built in checks and balances to discourage a fleeting majority from bullying the minority.

Selfish interests were supposed to die in the labyrinth of the American legislative process.  The system was supposed to be deliberative, cooperative, and judicious. Today it is none of these things.

Each politician is his or her own primary interest, firstly concerned with his or her own re-election, secondly with the success of one of the two major political parties, and thirdly with the well-being of the country as a whole, which is always on the back burner.

Given this order of priorities, is it any wonder that compromise has become impossible? Why compromise when you can instead demonize the other side, and serve your primary and secondary self-interests?

What the Republicans are demonstrating is that even the success of the party is unimportant compared to individual political careers. Apparently, their first rule is to do nothing that could even slightly jeopardize a member’s re-election. So, Republicans in Congress can’t even compromise with each other.

Moving on from their failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, the Republicans are now playing with the idea of failing to reform the tax code.

Maybe the Republicans will get tax reform done. Maybe. It’s a good idea to remove loopholes and flatten taxes. It will make the economy more efficient, the country more productive, and encourage growth.

But there are many selfish interests -- that fund re-election campaigns -- fighting for those loopholes. Tax reform is far from a done deal.

Furthermore, Republican voters did not send their representatives to Washington to add to the national debt. Yet that is exactly what Republican Congresses keep doing, and they are poised to do it again with their tax reform proposal, which is also a tax cut.

Most Republican voters can acknowledge the truth in Democratic arguments that tax cuts do not necessarily pay for themselves. Republican voters want tax cuts to be paid for with spending cuts, and beyond that, still more spending cuts, to make sure that we are reducing our national debt.

But debt and deficit reduction is not going to happen. Republicans and Democrats are going to keep on delivering the desserts and skimping on the vegetables. Republicans will give us tax cuts and Democrats will offer more “free” services.

As long as the system remains the way it is, the national debt will always be someone else’s problem. That is, until it isn’t.

As Christmas approaches, it’s crunch time for the Republicans in Congress. They understand that everyone wants presents under their trees. They know they must get something done. There’s not much time left.

It might seem like an odd sense of urgency, since their terms in the House are not even half up. What’s the rush?

It’s because mission critical in their second year is re-election. There’s all of the vital fundraising and campaigning to do, which unlike the interests of the country, can never be put on the back burner.

The country can go to hell, so long as each member is re-elected.

And while accomplishing something for the country would be nice, most Republican incumbents will survive no matter what.

Such are the privileges for those who hold office. They have their fundraising advantages, gerrymandered districts in some cases, and their full-time staffs, paid by the taxpayers to help them look good.

Most of all, the Republicans in Congress realize that though their own voters might look upon them with disgust, they also understand that their constituents loath the Democrats more.

Merry Christmas, charge it to the credit card, and pass the eggnog.

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