Well, here we are again: another year of legislative dysfunction capped by an undemocratic, un-republican process that uses the threat of another manufactured crisis to impose on an unwilling country the same broken government policies that have repeatedly failed the people they are supposed to serve.
The bill that Congress passed today – made up of the omnibus spending bill and tax extenders package – and the process that produced it are an affront to the Constitution – to they very idea of constitutionalism – and an insult to the American people.
I'm not even talking about the substance of the bill, which is bad enough.
I'm talking about the way it was produced. A small handful of leaders from the two parties got together behind closed doors to decide what the nation’s taxing and spending policies would be for the next year.
And then, after several weeks, the negotiators emerged – grand bargain in hand – confident that the people they deliberately excluded from the policymaking process would now support all 2,242 pages of the legislative leviathan that they cooked up.
This is not how a self-governing – or self-respecting – institution operates, and everyone in Congress knows it.
The leaders who presided over these negotiations were elected, just like every member of Congress, to represent the people residing in their state or congressional district, not the entire population of the country.
Yet they just excluded 99 percent of the country from this process, as if their representatives are just partisan seals, trained to bark and clap on cue for their leaders.
That anyone is celebrating this bill as some kind of achievement is just further evidence of how out of touch Washington has become.
Indeed, the very premise of this process – that the establishment leaders of the two parties can accurately and fairly represent 320 million Americans – is itself absurd.
This isn’t just my opinion. It’s the opinion of the vast, and bipartisan, majority of our constituents.
70 percent of the American people think the country is on the wrong track. Congress, for its part, is one of the least-trusted institutions in the country, with a mere 14 percent of Americans approving of the way Congress is doing its job, according to a recent survey. And a dwindling minority of Americans trusts the federal government to do what’s right for the country.
The country doesn’t trust or respect Congress. And having passed this bill — and having therefore assented to the secretive, undemocratic process behind it — Congress just told the country, loud and clear, that the feeling is mutual.
"That anyone is celebrating this bill as some kind of achievement is just further evidence of how out of touch Washington has become."
The American people deserve better than this. And Congress has the capacity to be better. What we lack is the collective will to break our bad habits and put in the work necessary to return to an open, inclusive, transparent policymaking process.
Summoning that common resolve ought to be the primary goal for Congress next year – and in particular for the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
This is not something that can be micromanaged or negotiated behind the scenes. It must be worked out in the light of day and through unrelenting individual and cooperative effort to overcome those who stubbornly cling to the discredited, dysfunctional status quo. In the Senate, that will undoubtedly require working more than three days a week and, when necessary, through the weekends – not as a PR stunt, but as a method of withstanding and outlasting the hardball tactics employed by those who insist on standing in the way of a more democratic, collaborative legislative process.
Congress already has the tools to earn back the trust of the American people. The only question heading into 2016 is whether we have the courage to use them.