Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Congress takes the year off

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: It's a given that Congress does little approaching an election
  • She says it appears that in 2014, Congress will do even less than normal
  • GOP is betting that it can win on Obamacare criticism, but what if that doesn't work, she asks
  • Boehner snubs tax reform; Obama drops Social Security changes

(CNN) -- It's a political axiom that the closer Congress gets to an election, the less work it gets done.

But here's the current math: what's less than nothing? And if you do even less than nothing, at what point does it become completely counterproductive and silly?

We've reached it.

Have you noticed lately that real ideas are out of vogue? A serious GOP committee chairman makes a big — and, yes, controversial -- proposal to reform the tax code. Here's how his ultimate leader, House Speaker John Boehner, reacts when asked about parts of the plan: "Blah, blah, blah blah." No kidding.

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

The President, who once endorsed an idea to change the way Social Security benefits are calculated as a way to curb its growth, has now said "Never mind." It won't be in his budget, for fear that his liberal base would desert him over it.

Republicans, who started the year saying that immigration reform should be on the agenda, are now saying, as the speaker put it, the President can't be "trusted" to implement any serious measure. And Democrats say the President can't be trusted to do a trade agreement without angering the important constituency of organized labor, so bye-bye "fast track" trade bill.

Bill to help veterans fails

Truth is, it isn't about trust at all. It's about winning in 2014. And an important part of winning, it seems, is to paper over all dissent within your own party in order to present a united front to the voters.

Borger on 'less than nothing' Congress
Boehner's 'about face' on immigration
Reid: Dems shoudn't fear Obama

So the election will be this: Us or them? Obamacare or no Obamacare? Do you like me better? Do you like government? Do you like poor people or rich people?

That's our debate -- the sum total of our big ideas right now. Not wanting to start any fights within your own party. Unity above all heading into the midterm elections.

So maybe Congress should just close up shop and leave town because nothing is going to happen for the next nine months. Just turn off the lights. Both parties are making the same political calculation for the same reason: They can't afford to have any internal debate lest they seem less than united against the enemy. Turns out that the permanent campaign is still alive and well.

Here's the glitch in this narrative: Voters, it turns out, actually want some solutions to problems. They want to see the deficit go down; they want to find a way to fix immigration. A majority (63%) is worried the country is on the wrong track. And, according to a new CBS/New York Times poll, eight in 10 Americans are fed up with Washington.

Somehow, voters haven't gotten the message that Congress -- in its steadfast intent to accomplish nothing -- is just trying to appeal to them.

But remember what happened to Mitt Romney's campaign. Romney lost for lots of reasons, but one of them was sticking too long to the assumption that if people were unhappy with the direction of the country and the other guy, that would be enough to win. It wasn't. The candidate mattered. And ideas mattered, too.

The "big" GOP idea this time is to bash Obamacare, relentlessly, endlessly, in a continual loop. Sure, it's unpopular, but what about if it starts working for people? What if people are sick of hearing about it now that the website is working? And what if people are more inclined to mend it than end it?

If Obamacare is the only trick in the bag, it might not be enough.

Then there's the Democrats' income inequality refrain. It's not new, it can work, and sure, it unites the Democrats. But by taking almost everything of substance off the table, it's the President's legacy and record of achievement that gets compromised, along with the voters.

The truth is this: It's a tight political fight. Polls right now show that the public, by a small 42%-39% margin, would back Republicans for office in the 2014 midterm elections. They're not thrilled with the President's job performance. They have soured on the President personally, and they can barely stomach the Congress.

So what's the political solution? No substance, no ideas, no serious debate that might actually engage voters. Each side suits up, armed with its slogans and its bromides.

And we inevitably re-elect the Congress we hate.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 1858 GMT (0258 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 2200 GMT (0600 HKT)
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1821 GMT (0221 HKT)
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT