You know what the very worst thing about Congress is? Incompetence? Irresponsibility? Cowardice? They're bad all right and, alas, all very much in abundance. But voters soon recognize these traits, and it doesn't take long to turn the rascals out.
But, where we get into trouble, where we can get taken year after year, where we are so quietly fooled is in the fine art of congressional sham. You've seen it time and again; after a lot of huffing, heaving, howling and hollering, the Congress acts! Hooray, they all cry, we did it. And we poor folks out there, who have to live under the laws these fellows pass, sort of bask in the afterglow of their self-congratulations. Last week, you could almost palpably feel, not just hear, the collective sighs of relief that passed from one end of the country to the other when the House passed a budget resolution.
Sham, my friends, all sham.
First, there was the disgraceful performance itself. The delay, the partisanship, the bickering, the cavalier dismissal of any sense of responsibility was appalling. The debate declined to a point at which one senator lost his cool. He shouted at his colleagues, "Who are we kidding? Only Congress can appropriate money. We created this problem. I hope the American people are smart enough to place a plague on both parties if this continues . . . . We should start facing up to the nature of the problem, and I do not care which side of the aisle faces up to it. There should not even be an aisle on the issue."
I'm sick and tired of hearing modern-day congressmen, analysts and pundits claim that progress in Congress has resulted from the adoption of more responsible budget procedures over the past 10 years.
I'm not prepared to judge whether policy decisions were better or worse for having been made over a bottle of bourbon and branch water in Sam Rayburn's office. And, I don't much care what Wilbur Mills did in his off hours, but can you imagine either of these two gentlemen and hosts of others risking the American economy, American financial institutions and indeed the well-being of all Americans by tolerating the performance that went on the House of Representatives this year?
Then there's the budget resolution itself. Believe me, you can abandon the notion that we now have a budget, even assuming a quick compromise between the Senate- passed initial resolution and the House- passed resolution of last week. Remember that these resolutions, woefully late, are simply the first and easiest step of the budget process and have never--I repeat, never -- been lived up to. Now it is incumbent upon our elected representatives to begin the real work, the department-by-department, program-by-program, line-by-line analysis. Because, now these two estimable bodies, having set an upper limit on deficit but having shied away from any specific revenue-raising measures face the task of passing a real budget to meet these goals.
And guess what? They've already failed! This is no exaggeration. Already the Congress has made short shrift of its own targeted budget deficit by rushing through the hoppers what I'm sure will be the first of several "urgent supplemental appropriations." The first one is for a $3-5 billion mortgage subsidy program over the next five years to help the ailing housing industry. The next little boondoggle wending its way quickly through congressional halls is a little gimmick in which Uncle Sam (read: you and I) will issue some promissory note that, in essence, goes to any thrift institution whose net worth falls under 2 percent of its assets. These notes will make up the difference, i.e., create solvency. Can there be any doubt, given the state of thrifts today, that this one can cost us untold billions?
Now that's congressional action in the last few weeks, and the legislators have only begun. It is still four months until election day as our law-makers become office-seekers pursuing their first priority, the retention of their seats. And, look at all the ailing industries! Why there's steel, the autos, the aircraft builders and the airlines and lots more. How can Congress, in an election year, let them suffer the results of their own mistakes? And, of course, there's the usual march on Washington by all the various groups who feel put upon with their lot in life and whose cases seem so poignant just before election, almost any group which can muster sufficient political clout to get Congress to start an entitlement program.
And yet with all the back-slapping and hand-shaking last week you would have thought we had a budget. Sham! And shame!
And all the while interest rates soar, the stock market declines, bankruptcies are at the highest level since the great depression, unemployment rises and the economy stagnates. Is it any wonder that even some liberals turned on the philosophy that somehow converted a desire into a government-guaranteed right. John F. Kennedy said, "Everytime we try to lift a problem from our own shoulders, and shift that problem to the hands of the government, to the same extent we are sacrificing the liberties of our people." And New York's Mayor Koch commenting on all of these entitlement program advocates said, "I don't believe in half their crap --that government solves all problems. I once believed that. I have contempt for government. I should know--I'm in it. When you remove the profit motive, that's what happens. You remove the penalty. There's always someone there to pick up the deficit."
Yet, here we sit while this annual budget charade passes before our eyes and we let it continue. We let them get away with it and what's more we even laugh at the jokes about Congress. Mark Twain derided them ". . . there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." A wily fur trapper in the 1800s observed that people are the only animals in the world that can be skinned more than once."
Americans have grown accustomed to getting skinned every election year by members of Congress who fatten their reelection prospects by sacrificing the nation's general good as they seduce those groups which can be helpful politically.
I suppose we shouldn't really complain. We are getting exactly what we voted for and, therefore, what we perhaps deserve.