Most people know the stomach-wrenching anticipation of waiting for news. When you get it — good or bad — adjust, and move on.
Things get messed up when the news never comes. Anxiety increases, plans stay on hold, it's impossible to move on.
That's essentially what Congress is doing to us now. Deep into the third year of an economic slowdown, markets, businesses and individuals wait for Washington to help boost a sputtering recovery.
We waited through the heat of summer while politicians indulged in protracted political theater and flirted with default over raising the debt ceiling — a routine, inevitable and oft-repeated act.
No wonder Congress' approval rating is at an historic low of 12 percent. It beats the 9 percent unemployment rate by only 3 points as the two threaten to converge.
The chorus of voices calling for Congress to give up the theatrics and get into gear includes Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, private sector economists, leaders of the European Union and last week, the two U.S. economists who won the Nobel Prize for their work on the interaction between policy and the economy.
Christopher Sims, an economics professor at Princeton told an interviewer, "the uncertainty about our long run government fiscal policies ... (is) a contributor to financial instability." His fellow laureate, Thomas Sargent, economics professor at New York University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, said, "probably the best thing politicians can do is quickly reach compromises and have coherent plans going forward."
Quick, compromise, coherent plan. This is precisely what Washington isn't delivering.
The unproductive drama has now shifted to President Barack Obama's Jobs Bill. Republicans declared it dead on arrival, Democrats charge that Republicans want a bad economy to help their presidential prospects next year. And nothing gets done.
The Republicans on Thursday unveiled their own plan, a pastiche of old talking points that, whatever their long-term value, were hard to connect to more jobs soon. The markets weren't moved.
The Senate's political wrangling over the jobs bill last week prompted two Washington Post columnists to write that it "may be the Washington institution most warped by the current culture of gridlock, transformed from a balky but functional legislative body into a strange theater of failure."
At center stage is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Kentucky's senior senator is an astute politician and smart parliamentarian, but these days he often sounds like he's on autopilot with rote remarks about the president's failed economic policies.
But McConnell is a realist, too. He knew the U.S. could not default on its debt and ignored the radical right of his party to work for a compromise to raise the debt ceiling. He and other Republicans helped pass the three trade treaties negotiated by the Obama administration and supported by many business interests, including Kentucky's bourbon, automobile and agricultural industries.
But we need more. A jobs bills is only the warm-up for tackling longer-term problems like the deficit, failing infrastructure, Social Security and Medicare.
And we need it sooner. Playing a political holding game until after the next inauguration in 2013 is dangerous and irresponsible.
McConnell can help both the country and his party by upping his game from politician to statesman and working for responsible compromises on workable policies.
The sooner the better.