When Congress ended its current session to break for the elections, there were headlines like, "Unproductive and Unloved, Congress Heads Home" (McClatchy) and "Congress Wraps Up, Leaving Work Until After Election," (Washington Post). Republican Senator John McCain is quoted saying Congress was "Leaving town in disgrace." A lobbyist adds, "This is the most dysfunctional Congress I can remember."
As well, Congress passed only a minimum "stop-gap" six-month funding measure to keep government functioning when the fiscal year ends September 30. The bill itself further discredited Congress as it was seen as a self-serving move that resolved none of the budget issues while preventing a government shut down in the weeks leading up to the election.
News reports also emphasized that Congress is so discredited its approval ratings have remained at about 13 percent, the lowest ever recorded. The past 18 months of Congressional activity is said to be the most unproductive ever. Even minor bills that used to routinely pass were stalled with bitter contention before passing (such as funding for highway repairs and interest rates for student loans).
The failure of the existing set up to resolve conflicts within the ruling circles was noted in the fact that major bills, such as those for the budget, taxes, the farm bill and post office were left for the lame duck session — that is the session after the November 6 elections but before the swearing in of a new Congress (January 3, 2013) and the president (January 21, 2013). That session is scheduled to start November 13.
Further, the specter of forced across the board budget cuts of $1.2 trillion — due to take place January 2, before the new Congress is sworn in — has been raised. These automatic cuts, which also greatly impact the Pentagon, were part of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) which itself involved intense contention over raising the debt ceiling and $1 trillion in cuts to social programs.
News reports also reminded everyone of the threats made by the financial oligarchy at the time the BCA was passed in August 2011, which included a lowering of the federal government's credit rating. Rating agency Standard and Poor's, for example, said, "The political brinkmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policy making becoming lass stable, less effective and less predictable than what we previously believed." These current new reports emphasized that still, more than a year later, no resolution for the budget is in sight. Indeed, Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat from Nebraska who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and is chair of its Legislative subcommittee said, "If you kick the can down the road you continue to further uncertainty, and inconsistency, and a lack of predictability. That's what this Congress has done, because of its refusal to deal with issues."
Congress has been completely discredited, unable to contend with the budget. There is perpetual conflict while the looming budget cuts are to be dealt with by this same lame-duck Congress. All of it sets the stage for further executive action by the President.
This does not bode well for the American working class and people nor will it resolve any conflicts within the ruling class. Despite the fact that it represents the usurpation of power by force and its use to further private interests by playing one faction against the other, President Obama is full of empty phrases to cover up the role he is playing. He recently emphasized that he is the one who represents "all the people." He says he is prepared to make "a whole range of compromises" that some Democrats as well as Republicans may not like. In a recent Associated Press interview he underlined, "The days of viewing compromise as a dirty word need to be over because the American people are tired of it." And he warned, if Congress cannot make the compromises necessary, "I'm going to have to look at how we can work around Congress." He declared this is necessary to make sure "we are meeting our responsibilities when it comes to the deficit reduction and investing in the future." More recently he has put it this way: "One thing I've learned as president is that you represent the entire country." Carrying on the theme that he represents the people against the Washington "insiders," he added, "Most important is, you can't change Washington from inside, only from the outside. That's how some of our biggest accomplishments like health care got done — mobilizing the American people."
Obama, in contending to remain champion for the ruling circles, is indicating that he is the one who can keep the battling factions together and possibly secure a compromise. And, failing that, he has plans to "go around Congress," by "mobilizing the American people" behind presidential rule.
It is not coincidental that the issue at stake is the budget. Control of the purse strings is the main power Congress has retained, while capitulating to the president's usurpation of power on many matters, like the power to declare war. Given that Congress is discredited and there is broad anger with current conditions, it is possible that the lame-duck session of Congress will be used as an opportunity for the president to seize the power over the purse strings and put in place some form of executive rule and even broader use of the police state powers of the presidency.