Capitol Follies Beyond Albany

Increasingly it seems like New York, which we sometimes think of as a world leader in governmental dysfunction, may well be a shining city on a hill when compared with Washington, D.C.

Even as Albany continues to bask in the glow of a newly passed tax reform package, even as the city sets a course to leadership in the 21st-century economy, the folks on Capitol Hill simply cannot put aside their partisan bickering for the good of the country. Doing so risks further damage to a less-than-robust economy, and thus making life worse, not better, for those individuals and families still suffering from unemployment and underemployment.

For a moment over the weekend, it seemed as though Washington was about to take a page from Albany. A bill to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for two months passed the Democratic-controlled Senate with the support of 39 Republicans. Yes, you read that correctly—39 Republican Senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky—joined their Democratic colleagues in support of the two-month extension. The final vote on the measure was 89-10 in favor. (The tax cut and long-term jobless benefits are due to expire on New Year’s Day.)

If you thought that the denizens of Capitol Hill were about to join hands, just as the State Assembly and Senate did last week in Albany in support of Governor Cuomo’s tax reforms, well, you were wrong. The Tea Party class in the House was poised, as of this writing, to kill the extension in what promised to be an epic floor vote. If they succeeded, 160 million Americans will see a tax hike in 2012, and millions of unemployed workers will no longer receive unemployment benefits. Happy New Year!

This is a miserable state of affairs. Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who is, admittedly, staring at a difficult re-election battle, described his Republican colleagues in the House as “irresponsible and wrong” because they refused to “help middle-class families” at a difficult time. Senator Brown’s immediate predecessor, the late Edward Kennedy, could not have said it any better.

It’s time for House Speaker John Boehner to decide if he is a leader or if he simply sees the speakership as a great way to get good tee times on exclusive golf courses. The Tea Party caucus is hardly the only symbol of partisanship and obstruction on Capitol Hill. At the moment, however, it is the most destructive.

If you want leadership lessons, Mr. Speaker, book a flight to New York over the holiday break. Capitol Follies Beyond Albany