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Why solve problems?

"After you do one really, really big, really, really hard thing that makes everybody mad, I don't think anybody's excited about doing another really, really big thing that's really, really hard that makes everybody mad," Sen. Claire McCaskill said. "Climate fits that category."

I'm reluctant to really beat up on McCaskill for this statement, as you hear it all the time, and it is an accurate reflection of how Congress feels about, you know, working. It's good when politicians say true things. But that doesn't excuse the perversity of the legislative branch, which measures its workload in terms of political pressures rather than problems that have to be solved. It's one thing for James Inhofe to oppose climate change legislation, but for a senator who believes in the problem to feel more urgency about reelection than carbon pricing is morally astonishing.

Reading that last bit, I almost deleted this post. Beating up on Congress for caring more about politics than about problems. How trite! But that instinct is the accomplice of the problem. The fact that most members of Congress know we have a fiscal crisis looming and know we're cooking the climate and still seem more interested in reelection than in not being complicit to utter disaster is a scandal, and there's no use acting all wry and knowing about it. It's good that Congress is solving, I don't know, 45 percent of the health-care problem, but that's not the same as it being "enough." Nobody forced them to run for office, but so long as they're there, they have to deal with what the moment throws at them. They can solve fewer problems when there are fewer problems to solve.

Via Natasha Chart.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 19, 2009; 4:54 PM ET
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So, you support the defeat of your ideological soulmates if necessary to meet short term political goals that could then be overridden by your political enemies who defeat them. Interesting perspective.

Posted by: ostap666 | November 19, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I hate to be the roving Dr. Doom on the climate, but Sen. McCaskill says in a nutshell why I'm totally convinced we're going to find out what Earth looks like at 700ppm carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Yikes!

Posted by: zeppelin003 | November 19, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Claire McCaskill has a bit of a loser's instinct. It's not that "we can't do two really big hard things." The correct mindset is that "if we try to do a really big hard thing and win, then it makes winning on the next really big hard thing even easier."

Combine this with the spite vote-- "let's show those Oklahomans who love Inhofe that Missourians think you guys are crazy!" -- and you have the potential to do something with your political power.

Posted by: constans | November 19, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

It is difficult to act to solve a problem and it takes time to get all the facts right before we act. So we are usually half way and half askede in our solutions. This climate debate is seen to be between "warmers" and "deniers." Either you think it is getting too warm or you think people are lying. But there is no other box to check.

What if I think it is getting warmer and that we will prevent an ice age?

What box do I check?

Am I a warmer, but..?

Or am I a denier less...?

Or just a person who has worked in science libraries and has a science education and who knows more?

Take your choice.

I can't take mine.

Posted by: gary4books | November 19, 2009 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Go Ezra!

Posted by: DaffyDuck2 | November 19, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

The McCaskill perspective suggests she, and perhaps many other Senators, do not believe that the electorate would ever reward them for making tough decisions and actually trying to solve problems. I say it is time the Senate actually devoted itself to policy-making, to legislating, on a full-time basis rather than running these silly Tuesday-Thursday weeks spending weekends at home and not at work in Washington. They were elected to legislate, act like it.

The fact much of this attitude appears rather widespread on Capitol Hill is precisely what makes a Congressman like Tom Perriello, the freshman Democrat from Charlottesville, Virginia, who has already said on multiple occasions that he is more concerned about solving problems, about making good policy, than he is about getting reelected so refreshing. That is the kind of Congressman everyone should want.

Posted by: OHIOCITIZEN | November 19, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

--"the perversity of the legislative branch"--

If you ever grow up, Klein, maybe you can look back and mark that as the first hint of an inkling. You've thrown in with thieves, scoundrels, and prostitutes and can't quite figure out what that smell is, but maybe someday it'll hit you.

Posted by: msoja | November 19, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Well said. And not said often enough.

You should print this out in 48-point type and stick it to the wall of your office above your desk, because as far as I can see spending any significant amount of time in DC makes people's brains melt until they can no longer remember the simple fact of why they went there in the first place.

Posted by: Jacob_Davies | November 19, 2009 8:46 PM | Report abuse

The thing that riles me is the glib cowardice/laziness of that statement. Work is hard! There's no discussion of moral imperative, or it being what your constituents want, or what the country needs. I suppose Senator McCaskill would rather pass resolutions about the importance of the biotech industry and establish new holidays over actual legislating...

Posted by: btavshanjian | November 19, 2009 8:56 PM | Report abuse

People at my work who had this attitude were fired, their stuff was boxed up and delivered to their house by security guards. It must be nice to be a Senator and be your own boss.

Posted by: bmull | November 19, 2009 9:42 PM | Report abuse

What good is health care reform, when a...


* Thousands of Americans, deemed to be "dissidents" or undesirables, targeted by Bush legacy program for debilitating microwave/laser assault, held hostage in their own homes to fed-supported vigilante "community policing" stalking units, equipped with warrantless GPS devices, who vandalize and terrorize, and infiltrate health care facilities where "targets" are being treated, as local police look the other way.

* "Directed energy weapons," portable units and a nationwide installation employing cell towers and satellites, induce weakness, exhaustion, head and body aches, physical and neurological impairment, strokes, aneurysms, cancer -- and many victims do not realize what is making them sick.

* Regional Homeland Security- administered "fusion centers" reportedly serve as command centers for covert electromagnetic radiation attacks, pervasive surveillance, financial sabotage of those identified as "dissidents," "trouble-makers" or slandered as threats to society.

* Use of microwave weaponry to torture and impair political opponents recently confirmed by deposed Honduras President Manuel Zelaya.

* Pleas for justice, to local police and FBI, go unanswered -- as do demands for a Department of Justice Civil Rights Division investigation and congressional hearings.

"These are crimes against humanity and the Constitution, being perpetrated under the cover of national security and 'safe streets' by multiple federal and local agencies and commands -- an American genocide hiding in plain sight, enabled by the naivete of those who think 'it can't happen here.'" -- Victor Livingston, former reporter for WTXF-TV Philadelphia, Phila. Bulletin, N.Y. Daily News, St. Petersburg Times; producer/host, MSG Network Sports Business Report; columnist,

OR (if links are corrupted / disabled): RE: "GESTAPO USA"

Posted by: scrivener50 | November 19, 2009 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Suppose Congress granted anti-trust immunity to what has grown to be a business sector in size one-sixth of the American economy. Suppose that business sector fixes prices, lobbies to a fare-thee-well, and commits fraud by renegging on promises that are made during the sales cycle. Does the foregoing constitute a problem? I say yes. Republicans in Congress say no. Congress does not solve problems that the American people may have. Congress considers issues and decides whether or not to address them. In the process, it may inadvertently solve problems. The cushy, ego-stroking job of a member of Congress necessitates constant fund raising and associating with people with ulterior motives. Not long after taking office, most members of Congress have been bought. They'll say the solution to a problem is too horrible to contemplate because 1) it is too expensive, 2) it is too expensive AT THIS TIME, 3) it is a job killer, 4) it puts too heavy a burden on small businesses, 5) it will raise YOUR taxes, 6) it smacks of Socialism. What they mean is that they have a golf outting with the head lobbyist for the insurance companies that won't happen unless the problem remains unsolved. So much for the American people.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | November 19, 2009 11:21 PM | Report abuse

It is okay if these Senators do not want to solve the second issue immediately. But then are they ready to 'run at least for an election' with that policy and get mandate from people for their proposals? That does not happen many times. These Senators remain vague as much as possible on the campaign trail and that is the end of that policy action.

Unless people start putting candidates which define their policies in clear cut and dry manner, I guess pressure will not start to build on these incumbents.

Yes I am only talking about Political Pressure here. I am perfectly fine Senators responding only to political pressures. Our problem is to get that right pressure. Any times public fails on that, these suckers run free.

Posted by: umesh409 | November 20, 2009 12:04 AM | Report abuse

imagine other professions saying this stuff.

Lawyer: "We just finished a really tough case. Do we really have to take on another one?"

Doctor: "We just had a tough operation to save a patient's life. Do we have to save this patient's life too?"

etc., etc.

Posted by: jfcarro | November 20, 2009 12:33 AM | Report abuse

Maybe the next thing they could take up is instituting congressional term limits.

That probably wouldn't make people mad. Certainly not the electorate.

Posted by: SteveCA1 | November 20, 2009 12:49 AM | Report abuse

Wow. Simply, wow.

Is there really no politically acceptable way of getting meaningful legislation on climate?

Can't we phase in a meaningful gasoline tax / fossil fuel fired electricity tax over the next 10-15 yrs while lowering tax rates, or directly subsidizing solar/wind/nuclear by an equal amount as a compromise?

Couldn't liberals and conservatives get behind an energy tax that replaces the medicare payroll tax, or one that reduces both the corporate income tax and perhaps expands the EITC?

Posted by: justin84 | November 20, 2009 8:35 AM | Report abuse

I'm continually astounded at what Kool-Aid drinkers Klein's readers are.

Legislatures don't fix problems, they create them.

There hasn't been a single act enacted since the Feds started regulating health insurance and distorting the health care markets via tax breaks sixty and seventy years ago that wasn't touted as solving the problem. Medicare and Medicaid, just two examples out of many, were supposed to be little tiny programs that would solve a problem. Now they are the problem.

And this new "fix" will become an even bigger problem. It can't not. And when the Kool-Aid wears off? Oh, what a headache.

Posted by: msoja | November 20, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

--"or directly subsidizing solar/wind/"--

And in a few years we'll hear the mewling about Big Wind and "hidden subsidies" for crony capitalists and how we will absolutely have to be jumping to that next new thing in the popular imagination.

There is no free lunch. Forcing people to buy products that they otherwise wouldn't, at prices higher than they would like, decreases overall wealth and sucks investment and entrepreneurship out of the economy.

How about people start trying to solve their own personal health/energy/housing problems and quit trying to jam the whole country into one half-baked collectivist meatloaf? If enough people individually choose so-called green products, whammer jammer, you've got a green economy. If not, then you don't, but then you know what kind of people you live with. And that's the true test of Freedom, see?

And having said that, I know that Americans have lost the stomach for Freedom, a thing which future generations will point to as a hideous failing.

Posted by: msoja | November 20, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Two really, really hard problems. Why are they really, really hard? Is it the complexity of the issue that daunts Congress? I doubt it; Congress seems to have no problem with 2000-page bills that no one can understand.
What makes these really, really hard is that a huge fraction of Americans really, really don't want them. By most current polls I've seen, it's moving into being a clear majority. In any case, a huge minority. They are politically really, really hard.
I don't see that as bad. Why is a good idea for Congress to make massive un-un-doable changes to our economy just because they won an election? Especially if most of the country is visibly turning back from the level of changes Congress wants to make. Even if these Congressmen really, really believe that what they're doing will save the world, it's great that they should have to take into account the fact that many others really, really don't.

Posted by: MikeR4 | November 20, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

As I said a couple weeks back in a different forum:

Posted by: rt42 | November 20, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for giving voice to my own pent up anger at these bozos for this very reason.

I mean, who ARE these people? WHAT planet do they hail from?

First, they get themselves elected, by hook or by crook. Then, as soon as they take the oath of office, immediately forget WHO they are supposed to be representing and exactly WHAT they are supposed to be doing.

Correction: they KNOW who they represent (the special interests and corporations whose money bought them their seat in Congress) and they do everything they possibly can to protect those special interests.

I'm especially riled by complaints about the size of this bill from the Repubs. Too much to read??? Can't we expect our representatives to be able to READ?

Posted by: onewing1 | November 20, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

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