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October 11, 2013

LEE HAMILTON: It's time for an intervention

It's time for an intervention in D.C.

The Amer-ican public has lost patience with Washington. The question is, now what?

Congress is unable to do its job. It displays neither competence nor responsibility. It lurches — reeling from crisis to crisis, each one self-manufactured in an effort to postpone the reckoning from some earlier crisis. It shut down the government over a temporary budget. Now it’s threatening the financial credibility of the U.S. government and the security and safety of the American people. Three years of last-minute spending decisions have culminated in a television standoff with no actual negotiations.

Too many members of Congress reject the notion that accommodation and time-honored procedures allow them to fulfill their responsibilities to the American people. They use their legislative skill to engage in brinksmanship rather than address the country’s fundamental problems. Economic growth? Creating jobs? Putting the federal budget on a sustainable path? Don’t look to Congress. They’re too busy coming up with the next short-term tactic to confront the other side. Every day they dither, they keep the government from addressing the nation’s real problems.

Even worse, they’ve managed to raise real questions in this country and abroad about whether our system of government can work. Are we saddled with a national legislature paralyzed by unending conflict? Are we capable of tackling our major problems? We are on the road to a government that cannot plan, a country shackled by perpetual uncertainty, and a loss of faith in our institutions both at home and abroad.

We do not have to continue down that road, but we do have to confront a core problem. The political center in Congress has weakened to the point of ineffectiveness, if not near-irrelevance.

That’s fine with some people in Washington, who are comfortable with gridlock and don’t think its consequences will be dire. Our government’s inability to deal with problems, they argue, is good — a government that’s able to act, they believe, creates more problems than it solves.

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