In a moment of justifiable exasperation, Manager Casey Stengel blurted this out to a reporter about his hapless 1962 New York Mets—the team that ended up with the worst single season record in baseball history. The same might be asked of the 112th Congress, says Michael Hirsh of The Atlantic. He wonders “whether any Congress has ever been more dysfunctional, with less cause, than this one?”
Yesterday’s spectacular failure by the “Super Committee” to produce a bipartisan deficit reduction package certainly hits new heights—or depths, if you prefer—of being dysfunctional. (As bad as it was, though, it doesn’t come close to matching Congress’s lowest points during the decade leading to the Civil War. In 1856, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts barely survived a brutal caning at the hands of Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina. It is a small comfort that Congress today wages its fights via talk shows, blogs, and Twitter, not in hand-to-hand combat!)
But by modern standards, Hirsch is right on the mark: this Congress is the most dysfunctional of any I’ve seen in my 32-plus years of advocacy in Washington. It is singularly incapable of finding the compromises needed to move essential legislation forward.
(Incidentally, comparing the 112th Congress to the '62 Mets isn’t fair—to the Mets. By playing poorly, the Mets disappointed millions of fans—yours truly included—who gave them our misguided support, but no one really got hurt. And for all of their 120 losses, the Mets at least were entertaining to watch because of the unsurpassed level of incompetence. Marvelous Marv Throneberry, the Met’s first baseman, made fans both laugh and cry because of his stupendously dumb base-running mistakes and poor fielding.)
But I am not entertained by the antics of Congress, because the stakes are so much higher.
It is no laughing matter that Congress’ failure to reach an agreement on the deficit puts the health of millions of seniors, military families, and disabled patients in great peril, as ACP pointed out in a blistering statement released yesterday on the wreckage left after the failure of the “Super Committee” process.
Because the Super Committee process failed, doctors face a scheduled Medicare payment cut of more than 27 percent on January 1, 2012. Congress is likely to take up legislation soon to avert the January 1 cut, but organized medicine’s efforts to get permanent repeal bundled into the deficit reduction package itself has been dashed by the Super Committee’s failure.
Because the Super Committee process failed, another $1.2 trillion in cuts in federal spending will automatically go into effect, through a process called sequestration, starting on January 1, 2013. Kaiser Health News reports that under the automatic sequestration cuts, funding for non-defense discretionary programs will be cut by 7.8 percent next year, dropping each year to 5.5 percent in 2021—with the CDC, NIH, and prevention and wellness programs being particularly vulnerable.
Already, there is talk of Congress passing a law next year to prevent the sequestration cuts from going into effect, but President Obama has promised to veto such an effort. Obama held out the possibility of signing into law a replacement measure that restores at least some of the cuts if it offers a “balanced” package of tax increases and spending cuts.
For all of the uncertainty, several things are clear.
First, Congress must act before January 1 to prevent the 27.4 percent Medicare physician payment cut.
Second, there will be a big debate in the 2012 election year about how best to reduce the federal deficit, with the huge 2013 cuts mandated by sequestration looming in the background.
Third, there is no reason to believe that the current Congress will finally figure out how to play the game right.
More likely, they will continue to show a singular inability to put their partisan interests aside and do what is best for the American people. There’s a reason that Congress’ 9 percent approval rating is lower than Nixon’s during Watergate, or BP’s during the oil spill, or the number of people who approve of the United States going communist, or polygamy or pornography, for that matter. And this is based on polling that took place even before the public has digested the Super Committee debacle!
Today’s question: What do you think of the “Super Committee” debacle? And do you agree that this Congress is the worst in modern times?