"The most exciting thing you encounter in government is competence, because it's so rare," the liberal senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said in 1976. "This man knows his business," he said as he endorsed Scoop Jackson for president. Moynihan felt he had found one of the rare souls in Washington who knew how to do his job.
There may have been an occasional competent person in Washington in the 36 years since Moynihan said those words, but there sure aren't any now. Every American has seen this fiscal cliff coming for months, and yet with no deal in sight, both Houses of Congress went home and the president left for Hawaii instead of remaining at the negotiating table. There should have been a special session of Congress convened to work on a solution, and the president should have stayed behind to show how important he thinks this is.
To families like ours, the way our political leaders are behaving is irresponsible and infuriating. Consumer confidence is dropping quickly, the stock market is tanking, and holiday retail sales were way down—is that any surprise? Families everywhere are facing the prospect of higher taxes, higher gas prices, and thanks to the drop in the stock market, shrinking retirement accounts and dwindling college savings funds—as well as a double-dip recession and ripple effects throughout the global economy.
When New Year's Eve arrives, we also face the dilemma of what to do about the debt ceiling, which has been reached for the umpteenth time lately: we can choose to default on our loans and risk having our credit rating lowered again in global markets; or we can once more blow through the debt limit and keep spending ourselves into oblivion. They're both bad choices, and we have no one to blame but our leaders in Washington.
The president called Congressional leaders from Hawaii for an "update" on the fiscal cliff, and the Wall Street Journal had this tidbit buried deep in its coverage: "The calls mark the first time Mr. Obama has called [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell, who is now seen as key to brokering a deal, directly to discuss the fiscal cliff."
How can that be? Two days ago was the first time the president called McConnell to talk about the fiscal cliff? If that's true, it's outrageous.
"The government is not working," Steve Bell, senior director of the Bipartisan Policy Center and a longtime senior budget adviser to senate Republicans, told the Journal. He pointed out what is clear to every American paying attention: "There is no doubt that the policy-making apparatus in this town has collapsed."
Competence isn't rare in Washington right now. It's nonexistent.