Gridlock in Congress

With all its customary problems, Congress has a new one — it cannot get anything of consequence done and can scarcely use its public hearing function to highlight what should be done.

This paralysis is called gridlock and some old Washingtonian hands have urged scrapping our separation of powers government and amend the constitution to create a parliamentary system. Under such a change, the party that wins the election controls both the Executive (the White House) and the Congress (the parliament).

Needless to say, “gridlock” would really have a field day with such a basic constitutional change, quite apart from the point that basic changes may not change even more basic systems of entrenched corporate power that can “handle” any kinds of governmental forms. After all, big money has a way of talking to similar officialdoms.

Congress, of course, has not always been in gridlock. There are periods in our history — the early 20th century, the Thirties, and the Sixties come to mind — when it moved on many fronts. At those times, there was a deeply perceived need to act, a broad sense of where to act and strong leaders in the White House and in the Congress to make all these changes happen.

Presently, none of these preconditions are in place. President Clinton not only is tempermentally unsuited for such breakthroughs, but he also has a penchant of following corporate power not shaping and disciplining it.

Witness his fiery followership for the GATT trade agreement so strongly crafted and pushed by the Big Business Roundtable group of global corporations. Then compare his passive role in the Congressional struggles over reforms of campaign finance, labor law and lobbying — reform which all failed, just as the business lobbies desired.

The country needs a comprehensive political agenda for its ills — one that provides facilities for workers, consumers and small taxpayers to find their political voice and one that generates the proposals from the organized grass roots up to the Congress.

If this bottoms-up process began with health insurance and health care policy, there might have been a good product coming out of this capital this year, instead of an inglorious collapse of Clinton’s and alternative proposals on Capitol Hill.

A bottoms up process is starting in California with a million signatures by that state’s voters on an initiative proposal that qualified for the November ballot to reform the health insurance system. With millions of corporate dollars buying massive television spots to distort and defeat this proposal, the initiative may not win this time, but it will have served to inform, arouse and commit many consumers of health care to try another time.

Clearly, the electronic and telecommunications media must operate under laws that provide access and use by millions of Americans. Television and radio have been largely trivialized through overwhelmingly bland entertainment and self-censorship to cater to advertisers. Serious discussion is difficult, and when it occurs, subjected to sound bytes.

With more cable channels coming to homes, there needs to be channels that cover the valiant citizen activities around the country and put people with like interests in touch with one another.

When a democracy has problems, the solution is not less, but more democracy.

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