Congress Summer Recess - What Rhode Islanders Can Teach Washington

By , Columnist
Most in Congress have thankfully left Washington for their home states and districts to “engage their constituents” (read: fundraise), taking with them the hot and oppressive air of the debt ceiling fight with them.  

There has to be a corollary effect that when the debt ceiling fiasco was occurring, DC suffered its most blistering month on record in July, and now that they’re all gone, temperatures are barely flirting with the 90s.

One cannot really consider Congress’ vacation earned or deserved. The debt ceiling deal has less in cuts than the “Grand Plan” President Obama and House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) tried to present to a heat-crazed Washington.

The poison pill provisions that force across the board cuts in the Dems' wheel house - Medicare - and the GOP’s wheelhouse - defense spending - are an open admission that this current Congress is incapable of making decisions.

Now the Washington cottage industry - lobbying - kicks in and once again there’s money to be made.  The health-care industry, which could stand to lose $50 billion in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements is spending August focused on its DC lobbyists and the $300 million it already has spent on influencing Congress and the administration during the first half of the year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Defense contractors who would suffer severe revenue challenges without the patron saint of contracts, the Pentagon, has looked downright miserly in comparison with its collective $70 million “investment” in insuring DC sees things their way.

And if there was any thought that the bitterness, stubbornness, and outright embarrassing behavior would alleviate with a moment of reflection, just put that dream away. A mini, but completely representative, issue is playing out in DC that has put an estimated 74,000 workers on the dole.

Congress’ inability to work out funding authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration has put 4,000 of agency workers on furlough with the remainder being mostly those associated with airport construction and improvement projects. None of them have earned any income for the last 13 days and probably will not until Congress reconvenes in September.

Not to worry, though. Those napping air traffic controllers were not affected, because of, you know, safety.

There are two issues that hold these folks livelihoods in limbo. First, Republicans are all fired up over the subsidization of three rural airports. The reasoning is if one is within an hour and a half of a “major” airport (that is also subsidized, by the way), they should get a ride, or a Greyhound, not a subsidized flight to that hub. The other issue is your typical GOP red meat: labor organizing in the aviation sector.

It’s a bit of a bummer for our people’s representative, unable to cleanse their hearts, minds, and souls with an August respite. Instead of hitting the reset button, these folks are already strategerizing on how to screw their opponent.

BI Lighthouse.jpgOn Block Island, R.I., a lovely isle 12 miles from the mainland, its locals have come up with a mantra that is usually inspired by bitchy Manhattanites, but is now being heaped upon members of the House and the Senate: “Don’t be an a-hole.”

The tenet comes in many forms as in a tourist asking, “It says you can’t drink beer on the beach. Really?” The Islander replies, “Just don’t be an a-hole about it.” The same rule applies for actually having to get a permit for a bonfire on the beach. “Light the fire and clean up after yourselves. Just don’t be an a-hole about it.”

The other context of this simple, yet profound, guidance for life, extends to questionable behavior of mainlanders when they hit the island and then forget that they are on an island whose sole purpose is to allow folks to slow down and inhale the fresh mild sea air.

snookisnl.jpgYou see that brand new Porsche Cayenne (that will be trashed in a week’s time from the island’s harsh driveways and dirt roads) whipping down the road with its windows up and the AC on during a glorious 75 degree day. “Aw man, don’t be an a-hole.” The flash mob of 3-4,000 URI students on July 4th that trashed the ironically named “Baby Beach” in a drunken frenzy.  “Don’t be an a-hole.” The Jersey Shore wannabes from Cranston who weave their mopeds all over the road with a line of cars behind them to pass. “Aw Jesus, Snookie, don’t be an a-hole.”

There’s a lesson to be learned here from the fine natives of Block Island, who offer tremendous hospitality and patience in sharing their gem with mainlanders. It’s a way of life that is based on cooperation and courtesy, because in February, you damn well need it. There’s disagreement and dysfunctionality, of course, but there’s usually resolution because all someone has to say is “Don’t be an a-hole.”  


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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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