Every day there is another example of how our government is broken.
The presidential candidates are so busy assuring us that they have good values, love their country and will give us cheaper energy that they have no time to talk about broken government.
With all 435 seats in the House and one-third of the Senate up for election, the candidates are scrambling for campaign dollars and votes and few have the inclination to talk about broken government.
And that’s part of the problem.
Nothing gets done anymore because the politicians are out raising money and campaigning for re-election. It costs at least a million dollars in a contested election to get to the House; it can cost $30 million to get into the Senate. This year we’ll spend several billion dollars on the national elections.
It used to be that senators and representatives socialized after work and worked across party lines to solve problems. Now they race back to their constituents on weekends. Rarely do they become good friends with those across the aisle.
Nothing gets done any more because hyper-partisanship in Washington has gotten so awful that many good legislators are quitting. Politics is no longer fun. It’s mean-spirited and demoralizing.
The Senate recently considered a bill extending tax credits for investments in renewable energy, a noble cause in turbulent energy times. The bill was filibustered and died.
Climate change is finally accepted as a serious challenge, but Congress has so far not been able to agree on how to handle it.
The moribund mortgage market caused lawmakers to scramble to aid homeowners threatened with foreclosure, but after months of talk and votes in the Senate and House, the White House and Congress have not yet agreed on a package both will accept, although Congress seems likely to act on its own and override an expected presidential veto.
With gasoline now over $4 a gallon, the politicians have quibbled night and day about what to do. So, they’ve done nothing but hold contentious hearings.
The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, but the U.S. military doesn’t have enough soldiers to stop the violence. Violence in Iraq has abated since the surge, but in three days nine American soldiers died there. After more than five years, the U.S. death toll is over 4,000 and the casualty toll is thousands more. Congress doesn’t know what to do.
About 20 percent of Americans say they are postponing or going without needed medical treatment, mostly because of the cost. Congress has no current plans to deal with the 47 million uninsured Americans or with high medical costs.
There are 12 million people in the United States illegally. Because of 9/11, there are many new restrictions on legal immigrants who should come here. Washington can’t figure out what to do about either situation.
The federal agencies are just as bad. Paul Light, an expert on good government, wrote in The Washington Post, "We’ve seen the federal government at its worst over the past six months. Consider the controversies over contaminated tomatoes and meat, tainted toys, toxic trailers, counterfeit Heparin, aircraft groundings, veterans’ care, missing warheads and unrelenting contract fraud. For every NASA success on the surface of Mars, there seems to be a failure back on Earth."
He notes the new president will have to appoint 3,000 political executives, who have to be approved by Congress, to oversee an increasingly frustrated federal workforce asked to do more with less.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has been breaking laws by hiring lawyers based on their political ideology instead of merit. There will be no punishment.
Conservatives argue it is better if government does not get involved in many issues. But in an age of globalization, countries that don’t solve their problems will be left behind, even economic powerhouses such as the United States.
We should demand that Barack Obama and John McCain tell us how each would fix the broken federal machine they so desperately want to run.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)