Poor Congress, too stressed by Florida even to function

Homework-challenged students should hail Congress. Our political leaders have come up with an outrageously inventive excuse for failing to turn in their work. The lawmakers are too distracted over the election uncertainty to finish their budget work.

Believe it or not, that’s the view of the House Republican leadership, the same folks who are always preaching about individual responsibility. This is what House Majority Leader Richard Armey — always one of the loudest and most self-satisfied preachers — has to say: "If we’re going to get to agreement on some of these really touchy issues, we’re going to need more time and they’re going to have to resolve the situation down in Florida. Right now, it’s a real tough time for people to stay focused."

Congressional Democrats seem to be going along quite contentedly, too. Maybe they consider watching CNN an entitlement they should enjoy.

Congress is setting an example — of sorts, anyway. Just when people are feeling a bit concerned about how well the country can resolve the virtually tied election, the leaders of Congress step right up — and fall on their faces.

We can’t do our jobs, the House leadership proclaims. We’re too stressed out about who will be in charge.

Try that at work. A while back, the national press carried reports about possible management changes at Boeing. Unless we missed something, the work force there didn’t put down its wrenches in unison while struggling to cope with the distraction.

In truth, Congress’ excuse wouldn’t sell at school, either. Even the nicest teachers who grant the most generous homework extensions would take the circumstances into account — and lay down the law firmly. Congress was supposed to finish all its appropriations work by Oct. 1. With various excuses and extensions, Congress has already gone six weeks past the deadline. So, while students might marvel at the utter audacity of the Republicans, they realize that even determined slackers would just knuckle down and do the work rather than try any more lame stories.

Sadly enough, the hyper-political Clinton White House doesn’t even call the congressional Republicans on such irresponsible behavior. The message from President Clinton’s aides: We understand. Clinton’s budget director, Jack Lew, spoke of the "inevitability" of Congress delaying work on the appropriations measures, which are now supposed to be taken up Dec. 5.

Of course, there is a degree of political realism in the postponement. Both the Democratic White House and the Republican Congress thought one side or the other would gain an advantage from the elections. Then the winning side would have the power to force budget issues to be decided on its terms.

That’s exactly the kind of block-headed behavior which disgusts the public and keeps the country in a state of perpetual political bickering. Congress even receives pay while considering itself too distracted to come to common-sense compromises. As most students will see, their teachers are giving them a much better approximation of the real world than Congress imposes on itself.

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