Rancor and recrimination are suffocating Washington like a summer heat wave, but the nasty tone of the debate obscures an important point of agreement. Leaders in both parties now agree that Congress is a failure. It cannot, they concede, make the painful decisions necessary to defuse the country’s exploding budget deficits.
In exchange for a vote to increase the government’s borrowing authority, Republicans have demanded massive cuts in federal spending. House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama tried, and failed, to negotiate a “grand bargain” that would both reduce benefits and raise revenues. Boehner and the Senate’s Democratic leader, Harry Reid, then advanced competing – and far more modest –deficit reduction plans that would do little to solve the long-term problem.
But look closely. Both Boehner and Reid have proposed some form of congressional commission empowered to make the wrenching decisions that the country needs but that lawmakers cannot, or will not, make on their own. Both leaders agree that their colleagues should be forced to vote, up or down, on the commission’s recommendations, without filibusters or other dilatory tactics.
This is a sad day. The U.S. Congress is the greatest legislative body ever devised. But it has lost the capacity to act, even in the face of a profound threat to the national interest.