End of the Year Round-Up

Hold on to your cynicism, kiddies, it’s my end of the year wrap-up of the highs and lows. Here’s just part of the past year’s craziness summarized in words:

“The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal-consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short.” – Standard and Poor’s, in a statement regarding the downgrade in the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA.

“In retrospect, I shouldn’t have showered with those kids.” – former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, regarding allegations of sexual contact with underage boys over a 15-year period.

“I wish I had done more.” – former Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno, in a statement about Sandusky’s alleged illicit behavior.

“I simply do not know where the money is.” – Jon Corzine, MF Global CEO’s response to a congressional hearing when asked what happened to $1.2 billion in client’s money.

“I’m hopping mad about it.” – Ray LaHood, U.S. Transportation Secretary, referring to a series of incidents in which air-traffic controllers were found sleeping on the job or otherwise unresponsive.

“They had to know.” – BernieMadoff, imprisoned Ponzi schemer, insisting that banks and hedge funds were “complicit” in his fraud, which cost investors some $50 billion.

“I’m on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen.” – actor Charlie Sheen, in an ABC interview.

With Congress at the lowest, one- time approval rating at 11%, and lowest average of the year at 17%, I’m reminded of the quote by Mark Twain who famously said, “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”

To put Congress’s rating into context, British Petroleum, the folks who gave us the worst oil spill in U.S. history, had an approval rating of 16%.

Additionally, in July, a Ramussen Report survey finds that 46% of likely U.S. voters now view most members of Congress as corrupt – up seven points from June and the highest yet recorded. 29% think most members are not corrupt, and 25% are not sure, according to the survey.

According to news magazine, The Week, the Worst Moments of Congress were:

1. The GOP reads the Constitution on the House floor After taking control of the House in the 2010 landslide election, the Republicans welcomed in the new order with a nod to the Tea Party, reading the entire Constitution on the House floor. A bipartisan group of 135 House members read the text…This pointless, “tedious exercise” took 90 minutes, and cost taxpayers nearly $1.1 million in salaries and expenses, said Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair.

2. Congress narrowly averts a government shutdown – Congress very nearly brought the federal government to a grinding halt in April, in what would have been the first government shutdown in 15 years. But at the 11th hour, both parties gave ground in a deal that, on paper, cut $38.5 billion… But when the Congressional Budget Office scored the deal, all that wrangling only cut the deficit by $352 million.

3. Democrats demagogue the GOP’s Medicare-voucherizing plan –House GOP budget maven Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) released an ambitious plan to cut $4 trillion from the budget over 10 years. Democrats quickly pointed out that $1 trillion of that would come from turning Medicare into an inadequate voucher system. One liberal group, the Agenda Project, even produced a disturbing ad with a Ryan lookalike literally pushing a wheelchair-bound grandma over a cliff.

4. The House GOP nixes disaster relief funds – In May, the town of Joplin, Mo., was wiped off the map by a “murderous tornado.” Breaking a long bipartisan tradition, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said he wouldn’t approve any disaster-relief funds unless Democrats agreed to equal cuts elsewhere in the budget. Cantor demanded the same offsets when a freak earthquake hit his own Virginia district in August, and a huge tornado threatened New York City.

5. Congress invites a U.S. credit downgrade – After months of fruitless, high-level budget talks between the House, Senate, and White House, all parties finally agreed early Aug. 1 to a budget-slashing deal, mere hours before a first-ever U.S. credit default. The deal — which cut $1 trillion over 10 years and created a bipartisan “super committee” charged with cutting another $1.2 trillion — averted the default, but not a first-ever downgrade to America’s perfect AAA rating.

6. The House reaffirms our national motto – Amid all the gridlock and inaction, the House found time on Nov. 2 to reaffirm ‘In God we Trust” as our national motto. House Republicans said the affirmation was necessary because President Obama once cited “E Pluribus Unum” (Latin for “out of many, one”), which “In God we trust” replaced in 1956.

7. Congress declares pizza a vegetable – On Nov. 16, Congress shot down new Obama administration guidelines to make school lunches healthier, including a special status for the tomato paste used in school lunch pizzas. “Congress says pizza is a vegetable,” tweeted Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). “Is The Onion now writing legislation?”

8. The super committee fails spectacularly – In late November, the super committee threw up its hands and admitted defeat. The “epic fail” means that, unless Congress goes back on its August deal, $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts will kick in in 2013. Roughly half of the cuts will come from the defense budget. “The saddest part of this sad moment in American democracy” is that if a super committee with special budgetary powers can’t reach agreement in favorable conditions, we’re in for years more of paralyzing gridlock, says Michael Scherer at TIME magazine. Nothing will change in the next election, no matter which party wins. “And that is why the future looks so grim.”

To be continued…

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