Letter From DC: Has the Storm Passed? Is it Safe to Legislate?

By , Columnist

One industry that should enjoy a bit of economic stimulus is ark builders. Washington D.C. and its Susquehanna Valley neighbors to the North have been absolutely pummeled by constant, heavy rain this past week to the tune of more than a foot in most areas. 

Because of rampant flooding, the Beltway had to be closed in two places. DC proper’s only real highway was shut down, forcing the closure of the 14th Street Bridge. The old Tiber Creek, once a canoe trip from the Capitol to the White House -- but since covered -- is rearing itself once again along Constitution Avenue. Rock Creek is now Rock River.

Ex-pats from the Pacific Northwest are even expressing disbelief. “Dude, I’ve experienced rain,” offered one Portland, OR native. “But this is ridiculous.” 

Mother Nature has served as the perfect metaphor for politics in DC this past summer.  The searing heat of July -- the hottest on record -- matching the vitriol of the debt ceiling fiasco.  The relative calm and mild temperatures of the August recess, when all of the hot air followed our elected representatives out of the city. The rumbling of the earth and remnants of Hurricane Irene, foreshadowing natives to Congress’ imminent return.

And now this past week. Five straight days of rain, rain, and more rain with soft thunder and lightning throughout the day and night and city streets turning into ankle deep rivers. Is Mother Nature trying to tell us something?

With nowhere to go, and TV options limited (well, there was the season premiere of Sons of Anarchy and the series finale of Rescue Me), water-logged Washingtonians were presented with two made-for-TV specials for the locals to see if the politicians are finally starting to get it: the GOP Debate out at the Reagan Library in California and President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress.

Is the sun going to come out tomorrow, tomorrow? 

Obama Jobs address.jpg

Not if you saw the debate of GOP presidential hopefuls, but maybe, just maybe, after the reaction to President Obama’s speech on “The American Jobs Act,” but then again no if you saw the TV coverage of both events.

Much of the GOP debate was centered on criticizing Obama with more than 17 derisive characterizations of the President and 12 disdains over “ObamaCare.”  Newt Gingrich summed up the agenda when he urged his colleagues to commit to the defeat of Obama, not to the election of a Republican and implementation of the party platform. 

GOP Debate.jpgReferences to “democratic socialism” and “class warfare” abounded.  The new Tea Party talking point is the decrying of the “47% of American that did not pay taxes last year” and the insinuation of their free-loading status.

It is doubtful that any of those claiming this mantra would trade places with these tax-free scofflaws. They don’t make enough money to pay income taxes. So not only are the unemployed and working poor withholding their “skin in the game,” but they’re deficit busters.  “Class warfare” indeed.

Texas Governor and current GOP presidential front-runner Rick Perry certainly raised some eyebrows with his labeling of Social Security as a “Ponzi Scheme” and a “monstrous lie.”  While technically accurate about the “Ponzi” nature of how Social Security is funded, you could almost hear all those blue-hairs in Florida going, “Whaaa?” 

sharpton.jpg(Classic line from Al Sharpton on GOP threats to Social Security. “I’d print millions of bumper stickers that say, ‘It’s not about Obama, it’s about your Mama.”)

The inconsistencies and lack of alternatives was stunning. Governor Perry trumpeted Texas’ efforts to drop pollution levels, specifically ozone, and then went on to question the human effect on climate change, saying that “even Galileo was outvoted.” If there’s no impact from pollution to the climate, then why cut the levels? 

The “individual mandate” portion of Obama’s health care legislation was decried as an affront to constitutional liberties. Yet not one alternative was offered to address the under and uninsured except for reliance on “personal responsibility.”  What do we do about those folks that either cannot or will not obtain health insurance?  Just asking.

The next night in Washington, however, did reveal some potential softening of animosity; perhaps encouraged that the 82% disapproval rate of Congress (according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll) may actually threaten the 85% re-election rate of Congressional incumbents. 

Obama’s efforts at identifying many of his legislative proposals as Republican-inspired garnered a “merits consideration” from House Speaker John Boehner. House Majority Leader Eric "Little Lord Cantorkerous of Henrico County” Cantor offered to “work quickly to pass the areas where we agree.”

Sean Hannity.jpgIt was a dramatic shift in response and unfortunately the pundits have yet to catch-up.  Bill O’Reilly called the speech a “charade.” Sean Hannity regurgitated the “class warfare” accusations. 

MSNBC stacked their panels with their own talent, ready to pounce on any substantive challenge to how Obama will find the money for his legislation as “obstructionist” and the “Just say no Congress.” 

CNN just had folks that repeatedly said “bottom line” and “at the end of the day,” while attempting to assess the “performance” of both the GOP debaters and Obama.

The rain is letting up on Friday, the skies silent and still.  We still have the crests to deal with over the weekend, and now we once again look east to Hurricane Maria.  You have to wonder: does Congress want to continue to tempt Mother Nature?

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Marc Osgoode Smith has covered – and participated in - Washington DC policy circles for more than two decades as a journalist covering media and as an association and think tank executive. Smith now enjoys his role as a “cultural observer” of DC Politics and the people that engage in them.

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