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Why wait for the election?

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Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

What are we waiting for? An election to settle what? This nation has an emergency. We're crawling toward a fiscal cliff. An election won't stop us from falling off it. To avoid it, we need Congress to live up to its responsibility and act for the good of the nation, not lobbyists and special interests.

Unless Congress acts, on Jan. 2, 2013 there will be automatic, huge austerity cuts across the board. Those, along with the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts (as well as other economic triggers), could send the economy into a tailspin. Unemployment benefits for millions still eager to get back to work are also scheduled to expire.

Yet Congress adjourned this past week to go home and campaign. It's the earliest Congress has adjourned in 50 years. Fifty years. Its members left behind critical business.

Republican and Democratic strategists rely on the fact that voters have short memories. Professional journalists and pollsters remember, but the rest of us forget. We shouldn't — and perhaps a few of our local papers will remind us not to forget Congress left town before completing its homework assignment.

Akron Beacon Journal editorial: “Predictably enough, lawmakers left town amid the familiar partisan acrimony, driven more than anything by Republican obstruction, that has resulted in such an unproductive two years on Capitol Hill.”

Baltimore Sun editorial: “These (congresspeople) must be the lazy, entitled victims on the government dole that Mitt Romney was talking about.”

New York Times editorial: “The 112th Congress has earned a reputation for monumental ... toxic paralysis. Unyielding Republican obstructionism is the root of this dysfunction.”

It wasn't for lack of effort and compromise that President Obama was unable to move the 112th Congress. Not even House Speaker John Boehner could command his own Republican House.

For a couple of decades now, moderates have been lost in both parties, although according to several studies, the Democratic Party at least still has room for them. The same nonpartisan studies provide compelling evidence that the Republican Party has moved the farthest from the middle, nestling into bed with the rigidly ideological right. Thus, Democrats in the Senate simply don't have enough votes to break the filibuster.

So we have a paralysis in Washington. It should come as no surprise that a large part of the dysfunction of our Congress has been the result of a deliberate strategy to score partisan points at a time when a large segment of our population are calling for an end to partisan bickering.

The Republican-led House of Representatives adjourned first. The Democratic-led Senate adjourned because any action it took must also pass the House. Now, the House is in pro-forma session — brief meetings where nothing gets done. But some lawmakers are still using this time to press for action.

I doubt the Congress will act. But you, the voters, could judge that the real problem lies in our dysfunctional capital of Washington, where our elected servants are so unyielding that nothing can get done.

It's your turn to get Congress back to work or force them to remain home, where some — perhaps most — of them belong.

Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.



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