Some people (probably only people not preoccupied with that Duck Dynasty thing) are up in arms about Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) trying to “ruin Christmas.” And I get it. Paul has spooked plenty of folks on the left and the right who are perfectly comfortable with their over-sized government and cushy perks. I don’t worship Paul (or his father), but he has stood out among his colleagues all year for his constant demands for government transparency.
The issue here is Paul’s “Audit the Fed” bill, meant to apply that same principle of transparency to the Federal Reserve. You can find commentary supporting and criticizing the bill; Paul’s problem is that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who is totes my celebrity crush, won’t allow a vote on his bill.
To try to force Reid’s hand, Paul is threatening not quite another filibuster, but to use all 30 hours of possible debate before voting to confirm President Obama’s pick for the next Fed Chair, Janet Yellen. Though our monetary policy is obviously important, the whole thing is kind of convoluted and boring, especially for non-economists like myself. I prefer sexier scandals, like gun-walking and drone
But I love the idea of ruining Christmas for our Senators because they kind of suck. Seriously. The 113th Congress is literally the least productive ever. And so, no matter what I think about Paul’s bill or Yellen’s confirmation, I would love for Congress to taste the bitter uselessness they’ve shoved down our throats all year.
Admittedly, some of these transgressions are less Congress (and not specifically the Senate) and more the federal government in general, but the legislative and executive branches have become almost a monolith of mediocrity for me. Let’s capitalize on their Affluenza and hit them where it hurts: copious Christmas vacation time.
Our Congress: What have they (not) done?
1. The Sequester
Way back at the beginning of the year (Were we ever so young?), we were all supposed to be super pissed about “the sequester.” Most of us probably didn’t/don’t understand what happened there – The Washington Post has an excellent explanation that helped me figure out what so irked me. Even if you did get it, you may have forgotten because so many other ridiculous things have happened this year.
The fundamental problem was that Congress, once again, didn’t do its job. Which, per that ratty old sheet of paper some of us like to harp on, is primarily to regulate taxes/pay our debts/keep our finances squared away. But Congress, once again, was a bit too preoccupied with bickering to pass a budget with the proper cuts. Hence, these cuts came via sequestration!
Around this time, people said “fiscal cliff” a lot, but fortunately that crisis was “averted”… until March 1. And so various programs were cut and a whole lot of people (around 3 million, supposedly) lost their jobs. The whole thing was a big mess, but thankfully we learned our lesson for, like, a whole half a year.
In March, Rand Paul filibustered over the question of whether, under any circumstances, the government/President could authorize a drone strike against an American, on American soil, without due process. The answer came out as something like, “Well, no… but, um, maybe?”
I think Paul made an incredibly important move here. We’re already very separated from the reality of war. We’ve become so used to it that this isn’t like the 1970s when people saw war on TV for the first time and decided they didn’t like it.
People can compare our Middle Eastern misadventures to Vietnam all day long, but a lot of us have dozens of cable channels and thus better (/less real and depressing) things to worry about. Paul forced a conversation about drone strikes. Most politicians are perfectly satisfied for soldiers to kill far away combatants like they’re playing a video game.
In October, drone strike survivors testified before Congress – only five lawmakers showed. Clearly, they’re not leading by example when it comes to active interest in war (which, once upon a time, was kind of a big deal).
We’ve made approximately zero progress on this front. Check out this incredible interactive representation of how we’ve used drone strikes – and just how few actual targets we’ve hit.
3. The IRS Scandal
Alright, this one broke back in May.
Essentially, the IRS singled out political organizations (mostly on the right, but also some on the left) for extra scrutiny on non-profit status applications. I don’t know if you’ve ever been involved with one of these applications, but it’s a hoot and a half under normal circumstances. So this weird, apparently abusive system made us all rise up in solidarity, because siding with the IRS is the quickest way to lose all your friends.
In an extra fun twist, this scandal was apparently a secret! That’s right, not even the President knew about it. He expressed outrage over this development. Poor guy, with all these people who work for him stealing the rights of the American people like they’re Post-Its and cool pens in the office supply closet.
It’s kind of like when Obama didn’t know about Operation Fast & Furious, the perfectly named gun-walking operation that’s armed drug cartels, gotten innocent people killed, and made Attorney General Eric Holder the first sitting member of the President’s cabinet to ever be held in contempt of Congress. Kudos to them for kind of doing their job on that back in 2012!
Anyway, the IRS scandal was child’s play compared to what came a month later.
4. The NSA Leaks
In June, a National Security Agency contractor by the name of Edward Snowden decided to give our government what they’re always asking for: transparency. Again, in a way it’s hard to blame Congress for this one. Reportedly, only the House Intelligence Committee even knew about it. But in the aftermath, a number of lawmakers have either supported the NSA programs or stayed quiet to implicitly endorse them.
Note: In case you’ve forgotten the only photo you’ve ever seen of this guy…
I’m sure you all know about the data collection, wire-tapping, and that metadata business. The hilarious thing was how everyone insisted on lying about what was going on, even as more and more evidence mounted. First it was, “I mean, we can’t do anything with this raw information.” Then it was, “Well, maybe we can,” once people got suspicious – like that awesome German politician who got his metadata records and reconstructed all of his physical activity over the collection period. Lies on lies on lies, and Congress refuses to stand up for us.
5. The Government Shutdown
This might be my favorite: in which the Republicans least in touch with reality take the government hostage over Obamacare. Once again, we have a budget issue. All we needed was a clean resolution – a no-frills budget – to keep things going.
Instead, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and company decided government employees wouldn’t get to work, nonessential government services (such as employment discrimination investigations) wouldn’t function, and everybody would be confused and displeased.
The shutdown signaled the implosion of the Republican Party and the explosion of the little remaining faith the American people have in our federal government. And all over a law that, like it or not, has been upheld as constitutional.
This whole episode was a hot mess, and I don’t know how anyone can claim with a straight face that his or her party won. Especially since in a few months we’ll be circling back to #1 on this list.
Those are five of the dumbest things our government has done this year, and I think each one merits a big lump of coal (but no subsidies!). I hope Rand Paul forces his fellow Senators to stick around as long as possible to at least pretend to do their jobs.
Let me know if I’ve made any glaring oversights – I’m off to get some eggnog and reflect on why Elle Woods is the only logical candidate for 2016.