Contrary to rumor, Nero did not fiddle while Rome burned. He couldn’t have; fiddles did not exist in first century Rome. Far more likely, however, is that Nero lit the fire that burned nearly one-third of the city in 64 A.D. because he wanted to clear the 200 or so acres to build a new palace on the site where the fire began.
Also true is that after the fire — and still without a fiddle — Nero built the palace. The fiddling-in-fire image comes to mind as Congress continues to wrangle over deep budget sequestration cuts no one really wanted, hammers away at a continuing resolution to fund the government through Sept. 30, and begins yet another round of poisonous, finger-wagging 2014 budget talks.
More amazing than this heavy workload is the amazingly light work calendar Congress keeps. Come March 31, 90 days into 2013, the House will have spent a backbreaking 35 days in their legislative sweatshop; the Senate almost half-again as many, 50.
Maybe this will help. Recent research “found that more than one-sixth of (a Congressional member’s) day was devoted to political or campaign work, including fundraising,” reported Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, March 19.
Moreover, continued Roll Call, “Combined with the hours devoted to media relations, the numbers grew to 26 percent of time spent on self-promotion when in Washington and 32 percent allocated that way in their districts.”
So, if “self-promotion” consumed one in four of those in-D.C. “work” days, House members actually worked just 26 days so far this year on the people’s business; the Senate, 38. The rest of the time our elected officials were either dealing with personal campaign issues or personally trolling for campaign contributions.
The newspaper hung some hard numbers on this perpetual political pursuit, too.“… (T)he average House member raised $1.6 million for the most recent campaign — or $2,200 every 24 hours from Election Day 2010 until Election Day 2012.
For the 25 senators who sought re-election, the figures are even more staggering… an ‘in cycle’ pace approaching $16,000 a day.”
All this campaign money — collectively, 2012 Congressional races cost $3.7 billion; in 2000, those same races cost $1.7 billion — hasn’t bought happiness.
It has, however, bought a lot public debt. Buckets and buckets of public debt. From the 2000 election through the 2012 election, the U.S. federal deficit, in round numbers, climbed from $5.8 trillion to $14.3 trillion.
No White House or Congressional caucus can deny patrimony to the increase. About $6.1 trillion of it was added by Congress during the Bush Administration’s eight years; nearly $3 trillion was added in the Obama Administration’s first three budget years. (Another trillion arrives this year.)
That means, of course, that everyone on opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue for the past 12 years — presidents and senators, Republicans and Democrats, men and women, plow horses and show horses — own some piece of today’s federal budget mess.
More directly, so do you and I. We are the ones who elected these political stars and stiffs; they are our “representatives.”
That makes us the true owners, the actual people where the buck stops, behind yesterday’s debt and today’s budget debacle. It’s us out here, not them out there.
After all, no one in any Congress or any White House ever asked for federally subsidized crop insurance or designed a decoupled direct farm program payment scheme or chose to protect one Dakota wetland. You and I did that; Congress — which can only find its shiny backside because we gave it the mirror — didn’t.
Should we cut a 75-year-old’s Social Security check to upgrade an 85-year-old river lock? Should we slice my crop insurance subsidy to maintain your Medicare benefit?Should we move forward together or apart as winners and losers? We must decide; we call the tune. The fiddlers are waiting.