Is anyone in charge on Capitol Hill? October's two-week-long melodrama over shutting down the government was not an isolated instance.
Recently Congress voted for a $749 billion package of tax cuts, and only a few months later was locked in debate over a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget. The House voted in favor of Ronald Reagan's plan to almost double the number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal, and not long after voted in favor of the nuclear freeze.
Only once in the past six years has Congress finished the budget appropriations before the beginning of the fiscal year; many spending bills have not been completed until months after the spending they supposedly control has begun. Long periods of legislative stalling are followed by spasms in which bills are passed with wild abandon, and these often contain "unprinted amendments" whose contents congressmen have never had an opportunity to read.
Many provisions of "tax leasing" became law that way, as, in 1981, did the phone number of a woman named Rita. Rita's number had been scribbled in the margin of the only copy of an amendment being voted on, and the following day it was duly transcribed into the printed copy of the bill.
"The system is a mess, and what's amazing is how many members of Congress are fully aware that the system is a mess," says Alan Dixon, a senator from Illinois.In case you missed some of the names, that was actually a synopsis of the Congress from a 1984 article in the Atlantic. One of several government shutdowns was looming, carnage in the budget fights between Democrat Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan. Notice the tone of the reportage--Congress needs 'adult supervision'. Not much has changed, so maybe it's not really getting worse after all.