Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shoot the Duck

The challenges are real. The war in Afghanistan is now solidly in its tenth year with no clear ending in sight, notwithstanding agreement by all that we need to get out. Despite massive amounts of stimulus and signs of increased hiring by both small and large businesses, unemployment is ticking upward. Tax cuts which were deliberately passed with a very finite time horizon to allow time to rebalance the system are set to expire, forcing less is more and more is less arguments from each side that stand logic on its head. And John McCain is giving new meaning to redefining standards as he keeps moving the goalposts as to when he'll accept a recommendation on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

But don't despair: the good news is that Congress, despite its lame duck status, is still hard at work debating, drafting legislation and rounding up the votes needed to take action. To be clear, it's not on any of the aforementioned issues. Those, along with the START treaty, immigration policy and a host of other thorny issues will never even come close to coming up for a vote. Rather, Democrats and Republicans have reached across the aisle, shaken hands and then patted themselves on the back for taking bold and courageous legislation steps in other areas.

The Senate joined the House in passing the Food Safety Modernization Act, which allows for more frequent inspections of processing plants in an attempt to limit outbreaks of food-borne illness. There was the $4.55 billion payout for black farmers and would-be farmers, as well as to American Indians who claimed racial discrimination in federal funding. And in an overwhelming bipartisan display of agreement, they have rebuked Charlie Rangel for his admitted unethical behavior with the sternest measure short of expulsion they can muster, a 5-minute talking-to. (Jon Stewart: "Charlie. Charlie. You... that was bad, Charlie. Alright. Go sit down.")

But if there's a model for lawmaking in these troubled and rancorous days, it has to be the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation, or CALM Act. Acting on the scourge of our times, those overly loud commercials that force you reach for the mute button, this bill aims to restore sanity to television viewing. "Consumers have been asking for a solution to this problem for decades, and today they finally have it," said California Democratic Representative Anna Eshoo, who sponsored the bill. "The CALM Act gives consumers peace of mind, because it puts them in control of the sound in their homes."

The House overwhelming gave its nod to the bill, joining the Senate which had done so earlier in the year. It now goes to the President for signing. But considering what else is happening in the country, is this really a good use of the precious legislative calendar? Apparently so. "If I'd saved 50 million children from some malady, people would not have the interest that they have in this," said Eshoo. "Consumers will no longer have to experience being blasted at. It's a simple fix to a huge nuisance."

It's such a huge nuisance that both sides saw fit to shelve their ideological high ground. There were no complaints from Republicans about overreaching government regulation, nor from Democrats about subsidies to widget makers who might lose market share now that they can't scream about their wares. And our nation is the better for it: all those sitting on their couch watching endless hours of TV because their unemployment benefits have run out now have protection from intrusive infomercials. In an interesting footnote, the legislation passed on a voice vote, wherein House members all yell their acclamation at the same time. In this case, louder was obviously better and got its way, which runs counter to the spirit of the law itself. But we digress.

For a lame duck session, Harry Reid has an agenda that is stunningly ambitious, especially considering he couldn't get half of what he wanted passed in the regular session. Mitch McConnell has said he'll be happy to work together and compromise with the Democrats, as long as nothing actually gets done. Regardless of which side you favor, its obvious nothing of consequence is going to happen. So perhaps we'd be best off saving at least a few bucks on the lights and the heat, and call it a day at the Capital for this year. Or as Will Rogers said about a lame duck Congress, "It's like where some fellows worked for you and their work wasn't satisfactory and you let ‘em out, but after you fired ‘em you let them stay long enough so they could burn your house down." It would be funny if it weren't so true.


Marc Wollin of Bedford, like a good many, has just about had it with everybody in Washington. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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