Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve

In one of the opening scenes of the fabulous Broadway musical hit, 1776, John Adams cries out in frustration: "A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere, or a cataclysmic earthquake I'd accept with some despair. But, no. You sent us Congress. Good God, Sir, was that fair?"

I understand how Adams felt. On November 5, America will be asked to decide whether Members of the 107th Congress should be allowed to continue their careers representing us in the 108th, or be replaced by someone else. As an anonymous collective, it's hard to argue for another term based solely on their accomplishments.

Adams summed up the inglorious record of the 107th Congress perfectly in the next verse saying: "You see we piddle, twiddle and resolve. Not one damn thing do we solve. Piddle, twiddle and resolve. Nothing's ever solved!"

The 107th got off to a promising start back in the spring of 2001 – passing the Bush tax cut and education plans. But the record since has been one of missed opportunities. While arguing that Bush is ignoring the economy, the Senate never got around to passing a budget this year. Lacking this necessary spending blueprint, most of the appropriation bills continue to languish. Congress is now looking to pass an all-encompassing continuing resolution just to keep the government running until next year.

Last winter, the lights went out in California as years of bad energy policy and a wrongheaded approach to electricity deregulation combined to cause a series of rolling blackouts. The left-coast power drain gave momentum to a long-needed national energy plan. The Bush administration stepped up to the plate and proposed an initiative that balanced conservation with the need to tap new energy supplies. For a year and a half the Congress has piddled and twiddled and failed to resolve or solve this issue.

Following the collapse of Enron last fall, and the devastation wrought on its employee's 401(k)s, pension reform rightfully moved to front of the legislative agenda. The administration, as well as members from both sides of the aisle, proposed protections from corporate abuse. While no one plan was perfect, neither side was willing to compromise. At the end of the day, or in this case the end of the session, the Congress failed to send a bill to the President's desk.

For years people have discussed the financial crisis facing our nation's Social Security system and the need for immediate action. But yet the issue has always been too enticing a topic to demagogue for votes. Yet soon after taking office, President Bush placed saving Social Security as one of his top priorities. Polls suggested that the timing was right to get serious about reform.

Bush appointed a bipartisan commission comprised of academics, business leaders and a few former politicians to study the issue and suggest solutions. Co-chaired by Retired New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a liberal icon of the Democrat Party, the commission held a series of hearings and produced three frameworks for reform. Their hope was to ignite an honest debate within the Congress that would lead to fundamental reform. What they got instead, was the avoidance of anything that could remotely be characterized as an honest debate. Instead of a bill, our representatives produced campaign commercials that paint reformers as villains, intent on pushing grandma's wheelchair off a cliff.

Seniors are the only people in our society who have to buy a second health plan to fill the gaps in the first. But even with Medicare and medigap insurance, most do not have the same drug coverage nonseniors have. That's why during the past couple election cycles, nearly everyone running for public office declared their support for a prescription drug benefit.

Some proposals would keep the basic structure of Medicare intact but add a new drug benefit. Others would fundamentally change the structure of Medicare so that it more accurately reflected the design of most private insurance. After what has now become an annual debate, Members on both sides got exactly what they wanted – the ability to tell voters that they supported a prescription drug benefit for Medicare. What they didn't do was pass any legislation that would actually accomplish this.

Like Adams, "I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a congress! And by God, I have had this congress!" Now, to the polling place.