Dana Milbank
Opinion writer July 20, 2011

Anew Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that 80 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the federal government is working. Such a finding leads to an inevitable conclusion: The other 20 percent aren’t paying attention.

With cameras rolling, lawmakers have managed this week to give the Capitol the gravitas of a middle school. Consider the lengthy debate on the House floor over the title of the budget legislation, which Republicans dubbed “Cut, Cap and Balance” and Democrats called “Duck, Dodge and Dismantle.”

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000. View Archive

“This is Ducking, Dodging and Destroying,” revised Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

“Better called the Slash, Burn and Pander Act,” recommended Pete Stark (D-Calif.).

“Cut, Slash and Burn,” suggested Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, corrected them all. “Cut, Cap and End Medicare,” she said.

“Cut, Cap and Default Act,” insisted Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

“It’s really Cash Cow for Billionaires,” proposed Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Republicans fought to reclaim the name. “I prefer Cut, Cap and Balance over Punt, Pass and Kick,” said Trey Gowdy (S.C.).

“Kick, Pass and Punt,” said Scott Tipton (Colo.).

Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) had an announcement. “I have a new name for the bill: The Bill Which Tap Dances Around the Question of Revenue and Lifting the Debt Ceiling Which Was Done Sixty-Plus Times Over America’s Lifetime With Reagan, Carter, President Bush and President Bush and Clinton.”

Quite a mouthful, Congresswoman, don’t you think?

Jackson Lee tried again. “It’s the Tap Dance Losers’ Club and Bust the Benefits Bill,” she proposed.

Um, okay.

Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) mulled this suggestion then countered: “What the president has in mind I would refer to as the Whistling Past the Graveyard plan.”

It was enough to give Michele Bachmann a migraine.

Michael Vick came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to advocate tougher penalties for dogfighting. But lawmakers had little time for him, because they were in the middle of a gang fight.

In the Senate, the bipartisan Gang of Six declared that it had reached a compromise. But a rival gang on the House side, a group of middle-aged men calling themselves Young Guns, voiced immediate skepticism.

While the Young Guns drew knives, freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) shot virtual daggers at Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairman. Wasserman Schultz, who spoke on the House floor immediately after West, had said it was “unbelievable” that her fellow Floridian would favor Medicare cuts.

This mild criticism prompted West to flame Wasserman Schultz in an e-mail leaked to Politico’s Ben Smith. Riddled with punctuation and grammar errors, it suggested the Democrat “shut the heck up” and informed her: “You are the most vile, unprofessional, and despicable member of the US House of Representatives. . . . You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!”

West’s rant was only slightly less coherent than the debate occurring on the floor. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) used Lord Acton’s words (“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”) to liken President Obama to a tyrant. “Today we fight back against this corruption of absolute power,” she said.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) went further back into history for an Obama archetype. “Marie Antoinette would be proud of such arrogance,” he ascertained.

By contrast, Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) opted for a color-coded theme, in which he held up his voting card and explained that green represented yes. “The green button: independence of this great nation,” he said. And red? “Continued and increasing bondage.”

“What the red will mean,” retorted Jackson Lee, “is to stop the insanity.”

Markey displayed a poster of a cruise ship with a Monopoly man on board and old people in the water. “Grandma is being pushed overboard!” he declared.

All decorum departed the chamber as lawmakers ignored regular reminders from the speaker not to address one another directly or to disparage the president.

Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.) cut up credit cards in the well of the House, and Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) proposed a “cash money” wager with Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) called the legislation “a rotten piece of red meat,” while Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) found the other side’s position to be “piggish” and “un-American.” Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said the Republicans were reprising “Waiting for Godot,” while Todd Young (R-Ind.) compared the Democrats’ position to “Alice in Wonderland.”

Eventually, the bill passed — but the adolescent skirmishes continued. “I’m going to give it another name today,” Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said on the floor the next day. “Cut, Cap and Continue Wars.”