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
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT