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A Football Fan's Reaction to Renewed Congressional Dysfunction

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There was a time that I would find myself happily supporting the New England Patriots -- except, that is, when they would play my beloved New York Jets who are in the same division (AFC East). Once we got to the post-season, I would dutifully and unambiguously line up behind the representative of the division and then Conference; and never (ever!) would I support a team from the opposing conference (NFC) in the Superbowl.

Those days are long gone. Today I will support any -- and, I stress, any -- team that plays against the Patriots.

I am constantly cheering against the Patriots. I hope for their early demise in the playoffs. And, the two times they recently made it to the Superbowl, I strongly supported the NFC team -- and, remember, in both cases that turned out to be the New York Giants.

My dislike of the Patriots has grown to such an extent that I am willing to give up on my favorite division and conference as long as it means a Patriots' defeat. It is (probably) a huge over-reaction; yet it is my reality -- one that I admit to readily.

Our Congress seems to be behaving in a similar way. Witness Friday's vote in the House of Representative that coupled the funding authority (continuing resolution or CR) to keep government functioning after the end of the current fiscal year (September 30) with a decision to defund the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare").

In doing so, lawmakers have again self-manufactured uncertainty that could undermine an already tepid economy -- and one that still struggles to create sufficient jobs and counter growing income and wealth inequalities.

This is not the first time that questionable Congressional actions risk tripping up the economy.

In the summer of 2011, disagreement on whether to lift the country's debt ceiling -- normally, quite a routine decision -- almost pushed the economy back into recession; and it tipped one of the rating agencies into stripping America's AAA rating.

To make things worse, the clumsy compromise that emerged (centered on the threat of overly blunt sequester-related cuts) did not work. Rather that incentivize constructive economic governance on Capitol Hill, it ended up by slowing America's return to high growth and robust growth creation.

Congress has gotten to this state of partial dysfunction much like my feelings towards the Patriots have evolved.

There was a time when Congress would work together, putting aside partisan differences in order to collectively make the right decisions for the good of the nation. Today, the willingness to compromise in the interest of the greater good falls victim to micro, often petty and unusually dogmatic considerations.

Deep mistrust has replaced the willingness to jointly and collaborative iterate to the right outcomes. Every development and remark is dissected in the search for any sign that could possibly play into the vilification of the other side. Moreover, the external forces in play (particularly the combination of local politics, the media and other opinion influences) serve to widen the differences on Capitol Hill rather than narrow them.

The stakes on Capitol Hill are much, much higher than AFC and Superbowl bragging rights. And it does not need to be a zero-sum game. So, usually at the last minute, lawmakers do tend to get their act together, albeit in a less-than-perfect manner.

Over the next few days and weeks, and after much political theater and noisy rhetoric, look for Congress to iterate to agreements that would avoid hugely undermining what is already a too-slow growing economy.

The Senate is likely to strip the Obamacare defunding provision from the draft bill and return just the CR to the House of Representatives. After lots of debate and public posturing, the House will likely approve the revised bill. Government and Obamacare will be funded.

A few weeks later, we will witness yet another Congressional drama -- this time over the debt ceiling. After another round of renewed political posturing and loud rhetoric, our elected representatives will likely find a way to avoid a technical default.

That is the good news: Congress is unlikely to derail growth and job creation. The bad news is that the lack of more constructive decision-making pulls the rug from under the positive economic governance needed to decisively lower unemployment, get economic growth to escape velocity and reverse excessive inequality. For that, we need to await true collective Congressional political vision.

In the interim, I will continue disliking the Patriots; and my wife will continue to hold out hope that I too may ultimately see the light.

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