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How bad is it in Washington?

By John Brummett

This article was published January 1, 2013 at 6:30 a.m.

It is so bad that Vice President Joe Biden, revealed in that debate with Paul Ryan to be one of the more obnoxious and arrogant and tone-deaf and rude human beings on the planet, was brought in at the last minute as our last hope — our ablest negotiation wizard and conciliator — for avoiding the fiscal cliff.

That’s like hiring Bobby Knight to handle media relations or Bobby Petrino to demonstrate motorcycle safety or Newt Gingrich to lecture on personal honor.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose previous professed purpose in life had been to so stymie public policy in America that Barack Obama could not possibly win the second term that he soundly won, despaired of trying to work with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a pugilist by background and metaphor.

So McConnell cried out publicly for Biden, with whom he’d hammered out private deals before when Biden was a U.S. senator.

Otherwise everyone’s taxes would go up. Otherwise we would endure automatic and untenable spending reductions in both domestic and defense programs. Otherwise we’d probably order up a stock market plummet and a recession.

Presumably Joe behaves better in a private negotiation over the future of the country than in a televised debate with a Republican tyro.

He and McConnell talked through the night and were getting somewhere.

Just think about that for a moment: Your taxes and your economy are at risk, and, as you sleep, your fate rests in the hands of ... Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell.

Now there’s a bleeping big deal for you, to quote Joe’s typically restrained stage whisper about health care reform.

I was on a morning news talk show panel with McConnell in Washington in 1993. I didn’t think he had much to say. If you’d told me then that our national future would be in his hands nearly 20 years later, I would have laughed loud.

No great country could possibly lose that much ground in two decades.


In the final presidential debate, Mitt Romney was advancing the charge — bogus, of course — that President Obama had idly let our military defenses go to pot.

Romney mentioned massive defense cuts that were looming. He was referring to “sequestration,” which was the process ordered up to get us through our last debt ceiling crisis. It was the one by which $1.2 trillion in domestic and defense cuts would begin occurring unless Congress made a different budget deal.

Obama scoffed at Romney’s charge and said, almost casually: “That will not happen.”

He was saying that, of course, the lame duck Congress would reach a deal to keep that from occurring.

You will recall that apocalyptic and anarchic Republicans wouldn’t even vote to let the nation pay its due debt unless they extracted spending cuts. That stalemate went to the last minute, of course.

We got out of it only by ordering up those surely untenable automatic cuts by the end of the year — half in defense to alarm Republicans and half in domestic programs to alarm Democrats — as leverage for a super-committee to assemble and agree on more reasonable and strategic reductions.

The super-committee failed. Then everything else failed. Then it was New Year’s Eve and Joe Biden came riding in on a horse.


We will be facing the same absurdity in a couple of months.

You see, we met our debt ceiling again Monday. That is to say we have bills due that we do not have enough congressionally granted borrowing authority to pay.

Last time this happened, the Republicans took us so close to the brink that our nation’s credit rating got downgraded. And we cooked up this sequestration business that had us all gnarled up on New Year’s Eve.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will move around some accounts for about two months. But we’ll need Congress to raise the debt ceiling by sometime in late February.

This is not a spending issue. The money has already been spent, which is to say borrowed.

Obama toyed with the idea of simply raising the debt ceiling himself unilaterally — to get the bills paid without destructive folderol — and inviting a lawsuit. But then his lawyers advised that there wasn’t any remote interpretation of the Constitution that would allow him to do that.

So now he says he has learned his lesson. It is Congress’ job to get paid the bills that Congress has incurred. He says he will simply sit tight and count on Congress to do the only responsible thing. There will be no more negotiation, he says. There will be no more peripheral give and take attached to the matter, he says.

Who can blame him? Negotiating last time caused the nation to lose its credit rating and led to the curious circumstance by which everything was up to Joe Biden.

So it is up to Congress to pay our bills, avoid further downgrading of our credit limit and send a signal of vital stability to the world.

Oh, dear.


How can we the people possibly fix this mess, assuming that constitutional amendments for a parliamentary system or an unicameral Congress are out of the question?

We need to do two things.

One is demand more by raising our voices and extracting punishment with our votes. That punishment should me meted out mostly, but not exclusively, to mindlessly obstructive Republicans of the kind Arkansas has only recently fallen in love with.

The other is reform ourselves. We are the problem.

We are the ones benefiting from federal borrowing and spending and tax-cutting. We are the ones either lining up in polarized ideological camps or disengaging in the process except to whine about the dysfunction we actually insist upon.

You generally get the government you demand and deserve.

And I just insulted the heck out of us.

John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. E-mail him at Read his blog at


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Jackabbott says... January 1, 2013 at 9:23 a.m.

Congress is dysfunctional and Obama is incompetent. We are probably in for 4 more years of stalemate on the federal level. Obama is a great campaingner but does not know how to govern. He just did not have the inside connections or relationships with Congressmen to forge a deal, we are stuck with that for 4 years. The nuts in the GOP realize this and will continue to use it to their advantage. It will take some drastic events to change the status quo.
Only goofballs with an agenda or paid political and media hacks would consider $400k in income as middle class in a country with about 50 million folks on food stamps, no telling how many on unemployment and welfare benefits. This is, in itself, absurd. Wall Street rules. Obama relationship with Goldman Saks and his reliance on their people to run the Treasury and other exonomic functions of the governement prove this point. The GOP has alwasy been this way and that is what you expect. They see a guy who has had no real connections or relationships with Congress and therefore cannot craft a deal a la LBJ, JFK, or even Reagan. He is used to dealing with wedge groups where he can serve up executive actions to win votes but this is not an effective way to govern.
We now see the true consequences of the Reagan legacy, voo doo economics, unfair trade deals. lower taxes on entertaineers, sports figures and CEOs and amnesty for illegal by way of the Immigration Act of 1986. The bushs, clinton and obama have followed this pathetic and worthless path and you can now see where we are and where we are headed. The other presidents had the luxury of "borrowing' from SS since it was running surpluses to finance the wealthy, China, Mexico, Saudi Arabia but obama is now holding the bag with the rest of us.
And sorry to say Obama not only does not have the ability or will or strength of ideas or moxie to change things in a positive fashion but really does not even recognize the situation as it is. Bush II still ranks as the worst president in modern USA history but Obama is closing in for a tie.

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Rightside says... January 1, 2013 at 10:49 a.m.

"Why John do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
Class warfare and tax the rich works for Obama among the low information people but a financial or political crisis may be necessary before we face and solve the looming national debt crisis.

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usfreezone says... January 1, 2013 at 2:06 p.m.

John Brummett finally said at the bottom of his article, WE are the problem.
John, I must contradict you just a little- a great major part of the problem is ...'propaganda', which I use sparingly, as most people won't bother to research the meaning of the word. Advertisements, (being 'shown that ...this or that' is the thing we need to own, the way we need to live, the item we need to buy), along with officials- government representatives suggesting we all are entitled to a house, we are all entitled to an auto, a telephone... (propaganda)- as yes, we all would like a home, an auto, a phone- but the fallacy of this is that we are not all 'entitled' to the same...
While we all strive to have basic living components- we are then ... (...offered by propaganda) to suggest we should UPGRADE to a better... ). At which point is it being placed on our shoulders that we have the right to pursue happiness, but that a Hummer or a Cadillac might not be for everyone?

We are a society that has been manipulated to the Nth degree, to, buy, buy...(have, have, have), and we are seeing the results of it in Washington today.

Davidscherrey just said class warfare and tax the rich might work on low information people- to pluck the mote..., but he didn't say it seems to be working for EVERYBODY! Everybody wants a quick, easy fix, so life as we knew it can go on. The problem is, when the ax comes down, this nation is going to REACT like Greece, furious that all we want isn't what we are able to HAVE. The cry of America, as it takes to the streets in protest will be.. "duh, which way did it go...?"

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tncbg says... January 1, 2013 at 2:19 p.m.

Your comments about Biden are spot on. Having that guy in any position of leadership is truly scary, but a heartbeat away from the presidency is a nightmare. Our current president is simply incompetent due to his lack of any meaningful leadership experience and no apparent ability to do anything but lecture. That leaves us with the egomaniacs in Congress who exempt themselves from the laws governing the rest of us leaving them out of touch with reality outside the beltway.

The Republicans are watching their base splinter into subgroups comprised of anti tax small government tea partiers and social libertarian / fiscal conservatives. They know they want votes but have no real idea how to get them or from whom they might come. The Democrats are led by utopia seeking nuts like Pelosi and Reid bolstered by Obama's successful due to simplicity class warfare. They continue calling for the elusive fair shot as if government can actually impact personal responsibility, drive and desire to achieve. Both parties throw money at a failed education system held hostage by teachers unions who care nothing about the students they are supposed to serve. They create agency upon agency to hire people to do nothing but get in the way. Sadly, we are on the way to exactly what we need, a meltdown of epic proportions. The poor will become more poor in years to come and the fair shot even more implausible. The more complicated government makes our lives the more effort and intelligence will be required to navigate. More people will simply lay down and file for disability assisted by the growing legions of attorneys running ads offering to help them do so. Social Security's rolls will expand beyond the already unsustainable numbers and the world's largest Ponzi scheme will continue to crumble.

I could go on but it's the first day of the new year. Those of us reading and thinking about Mr. Brummet's column will be fine. We will pay higher taxes but we have done that before. What we will not do is run for office...... we're too busy working. Happy New Year!

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FreeSpiritMan says... January 1, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.

Hey people its TV that is the problem, think about it for a few seconds logically. Before TV those that could afford it went to the movies, there were no ads except for new movies and the concession stand. Now we also have the Internet.
Babies, young children and teens did not read newspapers and magazines and were not bombarded 24 hours and day with violence, showing young kids with things that they may want but the parents could not afford. Just look at the junk food ads on TV, look at the super-size me ads by the fast food industry. Now look at the current obesity rate in the US. What is seen through the eyes shapes the mind and body, this is happening because of the psychology of a capitalistic society striving to maximize profit and human nature greed. There is nothing going to change this so we may as well do the best we can, and all learn to live and work together and come up with the best solutions to problems. The political parties need to know the people want them to solve problems by comprimizing

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ladyLiberty says... January 1, 2013 at 3:17 p.m.

laughing JOE biden. well it could have been alot worse if it was V.P. Ryan negotiating
the fiscal deal! his extreme and dangerous plans were rejected by the majority and sensible voters. Go Joe, Obama did well to keep him around.

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RaylanGivens says... January 1, 2013 at 3:56 p.m.

BillSmith you nailed half of the problem; the other half is the Internet. Anyone can get on here (and everywhere else) and say whatever they want (pretty much) and get away with it. What that does is further divide the country to their extremes on the left and right and leaves nothing for compromise and dooms the moderates. This is all just entertainment for me, and watching people go insane over comments I make is hilarious.

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Populist says... January 1, 2013 at 3:57 p.m.


I agree. I think that Brummett was a little harsh in his assessment of Joe. I don't think that he is particularly rude.

I totally disagree with Jack Abbott's assessment of Obama. I think the tax plan basically is a good one. I've not analyzed the cuts, and I am sure that more cuts need to be made, but we need to start moving in the right direction. The taxes for the rich are being raised, but not so much to really hurt them. Hopefully, Congress will pass this, and we can expect more cooperation in the future. We need the far left and the far right to go away. Those of us in the sensible middle need to exert more authority in governmental affairs.

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FreeSpiritMan says... January 1, 2013 at 3:59 p.m.

Liberal state vs conservative state..........................
Washington State minimum wage $9.19 per hour
Idaho State minimum wage $7.25 per hour.
If you lived on the border in Idaho where would you work?

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DontDrinkDatKoolAid says... January 1, 2013 at 4:56 p.m.

tncbg, Jackabbott, davidscherrey, usfreezone ... Spot on.

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