Roger Simon: Our fools on the Hill
We used to have a ship of state, and now we have a ship of fools.
To call what happened on Capitol Hill over the past few days Kabuki is to insult Kabuki. What actually happened was more like ancient farce when actors used to come out and hit each other over the head with socks full of cowpies.
Contrary to what you have heard, we did not face up to a financial or economic or budgetary crisis. All Congress and the White House did was slog through another political crisis.
And the way they did it was comical: a 2 a.m. vote in the Senate followed by an 11 p.m. vote in the House. This is drive-by government.
That the White House was going to win was never in doubt. Barack Obama won reelection in November by nearly 5 million votes. According to CBS News, his approval rating is at 57 percent.
The members of Congress, on the other hand, are close to being put in stocks and pelted with vegetables. According to CBS, congressional job approval is at 11 percent. Any lower than that and Congress might as well move to Canada and try there.
One of the reasons our politicians are held in such low regard is that what they do is so divorced from reality.
What was the No. 1 issue of the last election? What did both sides promise the American people? As I recall, it was jobs, jobs and more jobs. But what did the recent fiscal cliff law do about creating more jobs? Nothing.
Some politicians like nothing. Nothing is why they went to Washington. They want to shrink government, in the famous words of Grover Norquist, "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
Why? Because as Mitt Romney said in the campaign, 47 percent of voters "believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."
(If you haven't heard much from Romney since the election, it's probably because he has been down in the Cayman Islands visiting his money.)
In this view, the government spends far too much on "entitlements" like Medicare. Medicare costs are strangling America, we hear, and according to the Congressional Budget Office, spending for Medicare in 2012 was a very hefty $555 billion.
But Medicare recipients are not exactly rolling in dough. In 2006, the last study my ace research team (Wikipedia) could find, the "average household income of Medicare enrollees was $22,600 compared with a U.S. median income of $48,201."
Yet these people are viewed as greed-heads sucking up precious dollars that could be better spent on . defense contractors!
The defense budget for 2012 was more than $600 billion, which is nearly twice as much as the rest of the planet combined. We outspend China, the next biggest military power in the world, by about 6-to-1.
Maybe this wild spending would not be so bad if it bought us quick and easy victories over ill-armed opponents. But it doesn't. We have poured more than a trillion dollars into the war in Afghanistan over the past 11 years - to say nothing of more than 2,000 precious U.S. lives lost - and we are still fighting there.
Some say this is good for the U.S. economy because it means we have to buy more and more bullets and bombs and drones, but personally I'd rather buy more liver transplants for the 47 percent.
Yet nobody in Washington is talking about serious cuts to the defense budget. On the contrary, they are talking about ways to avoid making serious cuts to the defense budget.
In the meantime, the government borrows more and more money, which means it keeps bumping up against the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling was invented as a way to keep Congress from spending too much, but it doesn't work.
So we keep raising the debt ceiling. We raised it 18 times under Ronald Reagan, four times under Bill Clinton, seven times under George W. Bush and three times, as of August 2011, under Barack Obama.
As Obama points out, the debt ceiling does not allow Congress to spend more money. It merely allows the government to pay the bills Congress has already racked up.
In just a few weeks, we will face another crisis over the debt ceiling. It shouldn't be a crisis, but politics will make it a crisis.
It's a broken system. It's why Americans hate politics.
Late on Jan. 1, President Obama briefly addressed the nation from a nearly empty White House briefing room. "I think, hopefully, in the new year we'll focus on is seeing if we can put a package like this together with a little bit less drama, a little less brinksmanship, not scare the heck out of folks quite as much," he said.
A little bit less drama? Drama is what government is about these days. Drama is the only thing our elected leaders seem good at.
So you bring the socks. I'll bring the cowpies.
Roger Simon is chief political columnist for Politico.