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In late July, members of the House Judiciary Committee finally got the chance to grill Attorney General William Barr, after waiting more than a year to question him. Unfortunately, some members of the committee spent more time delivering speeches to Barr (and the TV cameras) rather than actually asking him questions.
“Reclaiming my time” was a common refrain from Democrats as they frequently spoke at Barr, when he tried to offer answers he had been called to give. It was a baffling approach that squandered a chance to get more answers from an official who had some serious explaining to do about the Justice Department’s response to protests, and the Roger Stone case, among other issues.
“This is a hearing,” Barr said. “I thought that I was the one who was supposed to be heard.”
On that point, Democrats managed to make Barr look like the reasonable one, which is quite a feat.
It was a sad reflection on the state of affairs in Congress, where the responsibility to govern too often takes a back seat to opportunities to score political points. Lawmakers in Augusta haven’t been immune from this basic failure of governance, either.
It’s expected that politicians will play politics to some extent. But there are moments that demand more from our leaders, and we are currently living in one.
And yet last week, and both chambers of the U.S. Congress left for their usual August recess despite this being a most unusual time.
Perhaps the desperation doesn’t translate to a member of Congress at home or on the campaign trail, where millions are being spent on misleading advertising while Americans continue to wrestle with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that Congress gave up wrestling through negotiations over another round of much-needed relief funding and support, and left town without a deal being reached, underscores a troubling set of priorities.
There’s no changing the fact that Senate Republicans waited over two months to introduce their own $1 billion package of additional stimulus after House Democrats narrowly passed a $3 trillion bill in May. That left very little time for negotiations before the self-imposed July 31 deadline when many federal coronavirus supports, like expanded unemployment benefits, expired.
And there’s no getting around the fact that Senate Democrats then blocked Republican attempts to move some of their smaller, individual proposals forward, such as a smaller enhancement to unemployment benefits. Negotiations between congressional leaders and the White House have since yielded few results.
“It didn’t enter my mind that they wouldn’t get a deal,” Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told ABC News. “This really may be signs of complete dysfunction. It’s truly scary that our lawmakers are not able to compromise in order to get something done for the American people. This situation is both more dire and the chance of them coming together is much less, and those two things combined make those observers like me worry about the ability of our lawmakers to find common ground.”
Even in an election year, we would hope the on-the-ground realities of public health and economic crisis would outweigh the electoral considerations. But it’s almost as if Republicans and Democrats alike want the fight more than they want to negotiate imperfect solutions.
Amid the negotiation failures at the federal and state level, a line from the 1966 song “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield felt relevant even before actor and singer Billy Porter performed it Monday night with original songwriter Stephen Stills as part of the virtual Democratic National Convention.
“There’s battle lines being drawn,” the song tells us. “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”
That point hits home as incumbents in both parties now spend their time campaigning and trying to convince voters that they should get another chance to do a job they and their leadership are currently failing to do.
For what it’s worth, we’re left wondering how the American people reclaim our time that Congress and the Trump administration has wasted away this summer — time that they appear poised to continue wasting by failing to provide much-needed additional COVID-19 relief.