When Republicans won control of both houses of Congress last year, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared the days of dysfunction had ended. It was, you see, all his predecessor Harry Reid's fault.
Yet stalemate continues and the Senate fails to address serious problems. Media reports of an unchanging Senate focus on failed expectations, but they lack the context of the permanent campaign.
In 1976, as Jimmy Carter prepared to assume the presidency, a 26-year-old aide, Patrick Caddell, advised him in what became a historic memo that governing "with public approval requires a continuing political campaign."
In 1980, journalist Sidney Blumenthal, who later worked for President Bill Clinton, published The Permanent Campaign, a prescient book that described the rise in American politics of governing as campaigning.
Under the permanent campaign, politicians routinely subordinate public policy to their desire to get re-elected. Presidents, members of Congress, state legislators, governors and most elected officials practice governing as campaigning: hence, extreme partisan polarization (which has other causes) and dysfunction.
The Senate's breakdown is partly McConnell's fault for not keeping promises to Democrats to open up the process and use committee vetting. He has also been stymied by Tea Party purists and Republicans fearful of primary challenges from the far right, refusing to govern in the interest of the people whatever the cost. Add to that a gaggle of presidential hopefuls following their own agendas.
Yes, a few things have passed: McConnell, himself, voted to confirm Loretta Lynch for attorney general, but after weeks of needless delay. A rare bipartisan vote inserted Congress into the president's effort to negotiate with Iran to stop its nuclear program, a controversial move that ignores the other nations that are part of any deal and undercuts the U.S. position.
Unaddressed: an unequal economic recovery, global warming, crumbling infrastructure, immigration reform; the list goes on.
When one of McConnell's first acts was to bring up the Keystone Pipeline and House Republicans voted a zillion times to repeal the Affordable Care Act (and replace it with nothing) that is the permanent campaign.
The recent passage of the Pacific Trade Agreement by the Senate was chalked up as a bipartisan accomplishment. It also contains a hidden feature of the permanent campaign that refers to members of Congress spending much of their time raising money to get re-elected as soon as they enter office. Opposed by labor unions, liberal Democrats and many economists who now see the loss of American jobs these deals create, the trade deal will have winners and losers.
The first vote on it failed. Then some Democrats — Republicans for a day — joined McConnell's majority to pass it. One Democratic sponsor of the bill, Oregon's Ron Wyden, reportedly "dithered." Check out subsequent campaign cash to Wyden sometime.
In the Capitol halls of legalized bribery this is known as "milking" or setting up a "toll booth," implicitly alerting the businesses and corporations that will benefit from a bill — in this case exports to Asia — that their cash contributions are welcome.
Legislators routinely hold up bills, or introduce a bill harming some interest with no intention of passing it: that's a "juicer" bill, to attract money from interested corporations to protect their bottom line.
Our defanged mainstream media will not report on this part of how promotion trade authority passed. The reactionary five-man Supreme Court majority does not see this as quid pro quo or outright bribery (there are only three monkeys who see no evil and hear no evil, who unlike the Supremes, also speak no evil).
But it keeps the cash flowing into senators' and representatives' campaign funds and personal PACs or slush funds that allow many to live like the one percent. Surely it is not surprising that they vote for the one percent.
And, oh yeah, dysfunction continues with the permanent campaign.