Clare Higgins: Vote your values in Tuesday’s US Senate election
I am really trying to understand what is going on in Washington, D.C., these days. The House of Representatives has now voted 37 (or 38, or 39) times to repeal “Obamacare”; voted to limit abortion; voted to deport young undocumented immigrants brought here as children; and voted to stop the Department of Homeland Security’s purchase of ammunition (the only possible gun-control measure that would possibly pass in the current House of Representatives.)
Speaker John Boehner has stated that no immigration bill will even get to the floor of the House unless it has “a majority of the majority” — a way to guarantee that a bipartisan bill will not happen this year. This is, of course, because House Republicans don’t actually want to get anything done on immigration; they want to show their Tea Party base that they beat back the un-American, pro-illegal alien Democrats in order to increase the number of seats they control in the House. And the Democrats are willing to capitalize on every bone-headed Boehner misstep as the mid-term elections approach.
Meanwhile, over in the Senate, more than 200 presidential appointees await a confirmation vote that may never come, leaving courts without judges, embassies without ambassadors and governmental agencies without directors. Both Democrats and Republicans have played the filibuster game; but it has gotten much worse. In Reagan’s first year in office the Senate confirmed 86.4 percent of his executive agency appointments; the Senate had only confirmed 64.4 percent of President Obama’s appointments during the first year of his presidency.
Immigration reform, the farm bill, tax reform, deficit reduction, crumbling infrastructure — all of these issues languish as the House takes symbolic votes calculated to divide and the Senate is tangled in rules of its own making.
Oh yeah, and under our President (a guy I generally support), the NSA has been continuing the Bush/Cheney domestic surveillance programs. And the IRS is either out of control or just incompetent depending on your party affiliation.
Back here in Massachusetts, our Legislature is winding up its budget process. The governor kicked it off with a proposal to increase funding for our transportation and education systems paid for with a set of tax increases (and decreases) designed to raise more money and to make the tax system fairer. While the Legislature didn’t go along with much of what the governor proposed, it did raise the gas tax and some other taxes to support increased spending on transportation.
The governor’s proposals to spend more on early education and care for young children was gutted; what remains is funding to reduce the child care waiting list and a modest rate increase for child care providers, (the first in six years). Higher education tuition rates are in the balance as UMass and the community colleges hope for the higher levels proposed by the House. While there certainly are strong opinions on both sides of the aisle, there will be a balanced state budget.
Across the state, cities and towns are also preparing their budgets for next year; balancing revenues with expenses and making decisions about what to fund and what to cut. Some communities will be voting on overrides; many communities will be cutting staff and services to balance their budgets. Again there will be divisions and disagreements, some of them painful, but each of those communities will have a budget.
Our state and local elected officials don’t take too many symbolic, divisive votes on issues. They rarely question each other’s patriotism, love of their country (or state, or city, or town) or the legitimacy of their fellow elected officials. With the exception of the trolls on the Internet (and Howie Carr), most of the state and local discourse is actually pretty civil.
And on the state and local level, people are struggling to solve real problems without the assistance of the federal government. The House votes to deport children instead of fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. They can’t pass a gun-control law, and they can’t help local communities pay for public safety. They can bail out the banks but can’t bail out the struggling college student. And inequality is on the rise across the country and in our communities. The federal government doesn’t manage the day-to-day effects of inequality – state and local governments do.
So, what’s going on in Washington? Why does it seem that the real problems that this country faces have been swamped by a tidal wave of partisanship? Why are the decisions so crassly driven by their effect on the next election rather than the next generation?
Sometimes it seems easier to ignore these questions and focus our energy closer to home. Sometimes it seems easier to check out of the discussions that don’t seem to make a bit of difference in our day-to-day lives. But we do so at our peril.
So go vote for the guy — and they are both guys — that you think can represent you best in the US Senate. And then let him know you are watching him. I’m going to vote for Ed Markey because his values are closest to my own. And you will vote for the person that reflects the values you hold dear. We get the government we deserve and we can only get it by participating in the process.