Has Extreme Obsrtuctionism Made Washington Irrelevant?

Washington has become so ineffective at addressing the preponderance of our nation’s problems—to the degree that it’s existence is almost irrelevant, and in some cases a downright threat to the country— it’s become irrelevant in making the bold and decisive moves required of it, under the Constitution, to provide for the safety of its citizens. Moreover, it’s failed to provide the structure that facilitates their primary mission: to promote the environments that will provide EACH of its citizens to “have an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Simply put, now that the GOP’s creeping austerity has eaten away at the foundation of Washington’s effectiveness like drywood termites in a Texas tree farm, the federal government’s clout and power is diminishing before our eyes.610

I can say unequivocally that Eric Garner and hundreds, maybe thousands of other Americans that we don’t hear about, are now being, and have been for years, downright refusing to provide any of their inalienable rights.

But the erosion of America’s relevance on the national stage is not only failing as merely a matter of words in a well-chosen political phrase. It’s real, it’s proven, and it’s going to continue if the American voter keeps turning a blind eye to what’s happening around us or without stopping to understand the coming consequences of their indifference.

The erosion from GOP obstructionism, hyper-partisanship it exacerbated, and lack of respect shown to a sitting President of the United States would be the stuff of treason in the era during which Thomas Jefferson expressed on behalf of his peers, the creed of this nation; the embodiment of which they themselves were the uppermost thought of the era that was just beginning to evolve when those ideas were written. Those words stand for the same view of society which, in that very year of 1776, Adam Smith put before the world his immortal “Wealth of Nations” as the “System of Natural Liberty.”

Given the excessive hyper-partisanship now on display, to dismayed populations both at home and across the planet, it’s tempting to blame Washington’s stumbling exclusively on ideological polarization. But that’s simply not the case. The source of the federal government’s growing impotency is structural. Moreover, until (or “if”) the erosion by these “termites” that are relentlessly eating away at the U.S.’s run-down foundations—both physical and ideological—are not addressed in Washington’s flailing, embarrassing incompetency and irrelevance around this country, much less the world, and its influence will continue to wane.

The obstructionism in Washington and disregard for the wishes of the American people has gotten so bad that barely one-third of eligible voters even bothered to vote in last month’s midterm elections.

Consider the wishes of the American voter that have been blocked by GOP obstructionism:

  1. After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School 92% of Americans wanted universal background checks required for obtaining gun permits. Result? Bi-partisan bill sent to the Senate was shot down by GOP filibuster.
  2. 75% of the American people wanted to end the $4 billion annual federal subsidy that pays for foreign and domestic oil companies rent to foreign owners of the oil platforms like the disastrous BP/Transamerica rig that ruined the Gulf of Mexico. Result? Senate bill sent to House of Representative to reduce the subsidy by half was shot down by a GOP vote between party lines.
  3. 80% of Americans wanted to increase support for American veterans. Result? Senate Republicans stopped Democrats from advancing a bill that would have expanded healthcare and education programs for veterans by a 56-41 vote.

I think you get the idea.

In the past, Washington has been the cornerstone of investing at scale in the assets that drive the economy, including education, infrastructure and research and development. But the GOP’s insistence on badly-timed austerity has rendered Washington flaccid with endless grandstanding and self-serving investigations (i.e., Benghazi, IRS, etc.) and the stuff of bratty children seeking to give Democrats a wedgie . The result is that we now have a dried up pool of resources for investments, a disjointed approach to delivering funding, and few, if any, remaining mechanisms that tie the capital to the rest of the country.

And the fact that Wall St. is zooming to new records almost daily, while the average America says that “the economy” is our #1 problem, should get at least as much attention from one of our political parties as voting, yet again on repealing Obamacare or renaming post offices. At least Obamacare, so far, has done exactly as was promised it would do in slowing the runaway inflation of medical costs and protecting millions of Americans from the specter of financial ruin due to relatively minor medical emergencies.

The way that these conditions have come about are not hard to find—like some search for the long lost Holy Grail. And they are as obvious as Rush Limbaugh’s buffoonery.

To wit:

  • The GOP has protected, I daresay enriched, their wealthy donor-puppet masters’ interests to the point that the federal government, like 99 percent of American citizens, doesn’t have as much discretionary money to spend as it used to. Although viewed as a positive by the beneficiaries—the political hard right—whereas the wealthiest one percent of the county’s elite are paying, at best fifteen percent taxes on non-productive but massive income, and the means of collecting revenue for the Social Security system is upside down, this is the very predictable result. When the Social Security Trust Fund is being depleted more rapidly than aquifers in the drought-stricken west because it’s being used to fight the personal, ill-advised, promised ten-day-turned-ten year-boondoggle like the pointless “Iraq War”, in which only the military contractors and Halliburton received any benefit.

The sheer idiocy of capping the collection of Social Security taxes on income above (currently) $117,000 is crazy enough. Add the trillions of dollars wasted on Iraq—in the only unfunded war (via war bonds, etc.) in the history of the United States–so that  V.P. Cheney (former CEO of Halliburton) could make some blood money for he and his buddies at Halliburton should have been exposed for the treason and war crimes that this evil man and his traitorous abuse of office ultimately fashioned.

Demographics and, more importantly, the configuration of social programs under the GOP money squeeze of austerity have relegated the government to spending nearly half its yearly revenue on a military that already spends more than its twenty-six top military-spending countries combined!

Add the strain that the Social Security and Medicare systems are experiencing, the underpinnings of our society will surely bust at the seams unless the specter of the proven failed policy of austerity during an attempted recovery is exposed for the sham that it exemplifies.

These social programs being starved of cash are absolutely crucial, and their lack of adequate funding puts the squeeze on everything else in our pseudo-capitalistic society. Discretionary available cash for the largest segments of the population is at a low point not seen since 1929, and we all know how this same strategy turned out back then—in a devastating, near total collapse.

Federal research and development spending, for example, has declined from 4.9 percent of the federal budget in 2004 to 3.4 percent in 2014. The Community Development Block Grant, perhaps the federal government’s most auspicious and flexible urban program ever, was originally funded at some $2.5 billion per year in 1974 ($11 billion in 2014 dollars). Despite urban population gains ( numbering in the tens of millions over the past 40 years), funding now sits around only $3 billion. The resulting crumbling buildings, highways, airports, and their respective linking infrastructures cities in once-mighty America, is a bigger threat to the average American family’s safety, than Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Russia combined.

  • The piecemeal way Washington allocates discretionary spending severely limits its ability to stimulate large-scale change. It’s an outdated arrangement that needs to be addressed immediately— money is distributed through a set of outdated agencies, many formed in the 1950s and 1960s, carrying out programs established in the 1970s and 1980s, through means more appropriate for the pre-Internet age. The funds are narrowly targeted at discrete programs run by separate agencies under inflexible rules.

Today’s economy demands the opposite. In the metropolitan areas that produce 91 percent of GDP, economic and political conditions vary enormously, and integration and collaboration across public agencies is necessary for success. Cities need the flexibility to devise their own approaches to problems — because what works in Phoenix, for example, will not be the same as what works in Pittsburgh. But to be a meaningful platform-setter for the nation, the federal government needs to allow cities and metropolitan areas to consolidate funding streams and use them to address problems in ways they see fit.

  • Washington no longer has the discretion to help metro areas finance important projects and carry out complicated tasks. Congressional earmarks used to serve as the vehicle that tied national representatives to the goings-on back home, but they were done away with in 2011. This has had terrible consequences — it has untethered senators and House members from the very places they were elected to represent. The system wasn’t perfect, but earmarks did require members of Congress to know about and advocate for projects underway in their home districts and forced them to (occasionally) set aside their ideological convictions for the sake of a deal. Did they need reform? Hell yes! Did they need oversight? Did they need to be abolished? Hell no!
  • Without the ability to procure federal funding for local efforts, representatives have very little discretion over what happens in their districts and are virtually irrelevant in the real decision-making processes that local, metro and state leaders are involved with every day. In the executive branch, similar restrictive statutes have left agencies with little flexibility to be a helpful, problem-solving partner to cities and metro areas.

 

Put simply, local leaders who need help no longer have any reason for traveling to Washington. The nation’s capital has become the site of photo ops, pep talks, news conferences, and grand-standing—but little else. As Washington fades into the background, the rest of the nation is engaging in a great experiment — can a country successfully invest in its future without the national government being a relevant player? America’s cities are already finding out. And your state, county, city, neighborhood or livelihood could very well be next—exactly like it was in 1929. If you want to see just how bad these policies can come crashing down on you and your family, simply click here to see how similar the conditions are today to the conditions that existed just before the devastating Great Depression.

Harvey A. Gold