As Americans gather around the Thanksgiving table this week and ponder what they are thankful for at a time of economic pain and uncertainty about the future, one thing unlikely to be on anybody's list is Congress.
Various recent polls show that about three quarters of all Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, and a pre-election Rasmussen poll found that only 12 percent of likely voters thought Congress was doing a good job.
Thus the election results. Following the drubbing Democrats took, they are not feeling in the mood to compromise with the Republicans who took their jobs. Meanwhile, Republican leaders are gloating a bit and trying to appease the Tea Party base which wants massive spending cuts, earmarks eliminated, and tax cuts for all.
It would not seem to be a climate in which compromise could flourish. However, there are some very big decisions about tax cuts and the federal budget that need to be made and really can't be put off until next year.
When Congress returns for its lame duck session next week, members will have to decide how to deal with the federal budget for the current fiscal year, which began two months ago. A stopgap spending measure, which is keeping the government operating, expires on Dec. 4.
But there doesn't seem to be any agreement between Republicans and Democrats on how to keep the government operating. The election may have shown that voters are uneasy with the direction Democrats were taking the country, especially in regard to government growth and spending, but there is no indication they would support a wholesale government shutdown to prove a Republican point about spending.
And if Congress does not act, the Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of the year. But Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on who deserves them or how to pay for them.
If there is anything Americans seem as united on as their disdain for the job Congress has been doing, it is that they want the two parties to work together on the people’s business.
A failure to reach any sort of compromise on tax cuts and funding the federal government for the next 10 months will just confirm their view that Congress is broken.
Both sides have to give up something in order to move forward, pass a federal spending measure, and ensure that tax cuts stay in place for a majority of Americans. Otherwise it won’t be a very merry Christmas for a lot of people.