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Congress Back in Town, So is The Political Theatre

Before you read any further, remember these wise words from a genuine American hero, General George Patton: “No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.” Keep that quote in mind the next few weeks as you watch, read, or listen to the news.

As sure as the leaves begin to turn in the fall, the traffic patterns are about to change in Washington, DC. August tends to be a very slow month in these parts. Members of Congress pack it up and head home for the summer. The city is quieter. At times, saner. The traffic, more than bearable. But that all that comes to an end this week. Congress is back in session.

While our morning commutes may be a little busier than usual, it’s the political congestion that will pollute the news cycle for a few weeks. Take this to the bank. You’ll see some legislative and political traction, in December. Maybe. For now, sit back and enjoy the political theatre. There will be a lot of it.  Busy work makes for good headlines, if couched and spun the right way.

With the Congressional mid-term elections just 55 days away, if the political tradition holds, Members of Congress will do the bare minimum to ensure the least political fallout. This means little, if any, legislative product will become law. That’s the good news. But there is some business that requires attention before adjournment.

One of the few must-pass action items includes a bill to fund the government for a few months, at least until December. Members and staff are quoted in the media that the appropriations measure will be a “clean” bill. “Clean” is beltway code for non-controversial matters or, a political heresy that no longer seems to bother anyone in this town, authorizing on an appropriations bill using existing budget numbers.

Another issue that will likely see legislative activity, although not necessary, is whether to keep open the Export Import Bank of the United States. Called Ex-Im bank for short, it is not really a bank. It is an out-dated, Cold War era U.S. government agency that exercises old-fashioned protectionism. Some folks call it crony capitalism.

Under existing law, unless Congress does something to prevent it, the Ex-Im would, supposedly to cease to exist on September 30, 2014. That would be a good thing; however, several U.S. companies that rely on government-guaranteed loans and perks are lobbying to keep it open. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also mounted a lobbying campaign to protect “jobs” (in reality, the Ex-Im distorts markets and, in the long-run, is job killer). Can the GOP stay firm and, finally, shut down at least one large government program? I doubt it.

How lame will the lame duck be? That depends on the outcome of the elections, who controls the Senate, and the party leadership battles that will surely take place before the end of the year. At this juncture, the Republicans seem poised to make significant gains in both chambers. Why? Mostly the economy, but I also think global affairs are beginning to weigh heavily as well. The American people do not want another 9.11 and recent events, mostly in the Middle East, remind us all that radical Islam is here to stay, for a long time.

There are a few more odds and end that could surface the next few weeks including Congressional reaction to the President’s message tomorrow on the ongoing threat from radical Islamist terrorism as well as some Senate activity on outstanding Presidential nominations. However, I expect the next few weeks will be full of political duds (as far as substance) and, depending on the issue, some good political theatre. The Democrats need to minimize what could be a major electoral drubbing, while Republicans muster avoid any move that could ruin a potential electoral landslide.

Finally, should you tune out? Quite the opposite. The media, watchdog groups, as well as anyone interested and with the time to do so, should keep a close eye on what Congress tries to do before the election. There is plenty of opportunity for mischief and history shows that special interests can sneak things in to allegedly “clean” bills that may not be in the national interest. If you’re company or industry is closely regulated, you’ll have someone monitoring Congressional activity for the next two or so weeks. It will, at least, being to set the stage for what is to come.

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