02/12/2014 03:10 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2014

Howard's Daily: Feckless Democracy

For those who enjoy clinical dissection of America's democratic dysfunction, the sharp scalpel of Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post today lays out the putrid parts piece by piece.

Basically, Congress just abandoned one isolated act of fiscal cost-cutting -- trimming cost-of-living increases for working-age veterans by a tiny fraction -- because the veterans' lobby doesn't like it. The necessary consequence, as four retired officers noted in a report from the Bipartisan Policy Center, is to "crowd out other important [defense] investments that support training, readiness and modernization."

Democracy has become a one-way ratchet. It can add new programs and benefits, but never take them away. Last week we saw Congress continuing New Deal-era farm subsidies, this week we see Congress sprinting away with its tail between its legs after putting its toe in the water of fiscal responsibility, because of easy arguments available to any special interest. Are you against veterans? Are you against farmers?

The unavoidable truth is that Congress is against America's future. Taking responsibility to set priorities, make tough choices, even to make easy choices (subsidizing corporate farmers?), is its worst nightmare.

Debate should shift away from arguments over policy and priorities -- responsible choices are obviously hopeless with this political gang. We should focus instead on institutional design. Congress is broken. Most programs, to varying degrees, are obsolete and wasteful. America needs to rethink how democracy works. What structure will compel Congress to set new priorities? What authority does the executive need to adapt to changing circumstances? How can America introduce the fresh air of public wisdom into the self-contained bubble of Washington? The situation is not sustainable.

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