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December 20, 2013

LEE HAMILTON: Congress still isn't being responsible

Attractiveness of American model under challenge

Congress is winding down its historically unproductive session with a small flurry of activity. It’s a welcome change, but so long overdue it can’t possibly make up for what should have been accomplished on Capitol Hill this year.

The problem is for too long, members of Congress have been working hard at everything except the one thing they should have been working hard at: legislating. They’ve been so unproductive they’ve actually threatened our world standing and our domestic well-being.

To be sure, they are moving incrementally. Gridlock is breached, but not broken. The likelihood is that Congress will pass a defense bill. It reached a small-scale budget agreement that undoes a bit of the damage caused by the sequester. It is finally starting to work through a list as long as your arm of judicial and executive-branch confirmations, but only because Senate Democrats decided they had to change the rules if they wanted to fill long-unfilled government appointments.

Yet the list of what Congress hasn’t done is sobering. There’s no food-stamp reauthorization or waterways construction bill. It passed a one-month extension to the farm bill, but that falls far short of the certainty this crucial economic sector needs. There’s no lasting solution to the debt ceiling problem. Almost nothing has been done about the fundamental gap between taxes and spending. It has left unemployment benefits unresolved, immigration reform unresolved, tax reform unresolved, and action on climate change unresolved. This lack of productivity makes me wonder if Congress can address truly hard challenges without a crisis before it.

Mind you, some legislators take pride in how unproductive Congress has been. They argue the less the government does, the better. But given Congress’ pathetically low standing in the polls, it’s clear most Americans don’t agree. They don’t like incompetence, as their response to the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act suggests, and they really don’t like people who dodge their responsibilities, which is what Congress’ ineffectiveness amounts to.

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