Governing Again By Brinksmanship

Governing Again By Brinksmanship

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

After the shenanigans this past weekend in the Congress over the extension of the Patriot Act or at least portions of the act dealing with domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens—a matter worthy of very serious debate—Congress decided to stop the game and pass a bill. They did this only after having proven their ability to hold up action by Congress as a form of protest. This entire discussion could and, in fact, should have been avoided if the leadership in the Senate had scheduled a proper debate in a timely manner so they would not face another game of brinksmanship. In fact, the American public even understands that this is a very serious and controversial issue.

This time the contest of wills was in the family; between Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and presidential aspirant and leader of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, Senator Rand Paul. Sadly for the country it was not the substantive arguments over the Patriot Acts’ reauthorization which they heard, but rather the political jockeying and gamesmanship between two Republican rivals; both of whom knew precisely what the result would be. They also knew that at the end the President would get what he wanted and leave to Congress to sort out the rest of the bill on its own time.

What is worth noting, however, is that this little episode in all likelihood is a harbinger for what is likely to occur after Congress returns from its Labor Day recess. In September Congress will need to raise the debt ceiling, whose roof it is likely to be hit in the early fall. In addition, Congress will face a series of budget deadlines or extensions by the end of September. Failure to secure adequate funding for the Government by the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1 could well bring the Republican Congress to the brink of a possible government shutdown by President Obama.

Not only does this action spell trouble for the country and the inability or unwillingness of its elected officials to govern, but it truly degrades the entire political system. Within as well as between the parties there is an enormous amount of time wasted on political gamesmanship and much too little time on legislating. With the presidential election races heating up by winter as well as congressional elections in 2016, there is little likelihood to expect a more serious approach to governing responsibility in the near future.

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