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4 Things Congress Can Get Away With but You Can’t

Rick Newman
The Exchange

If the U.S. Congress were run like a business, it probably would have been downsized to 20 or 30 members by now, rather than the 535 who occupy space in the Capitol. After all, it takes only a couple dozen legislators to accomplish the work Congress actually gets done.

Congress, for better or worse, is not run like a business, which is why we’re once again confronted with the spectacle of a needless government shutdown. No viable company would arbitrarily shut itself down, leaving customers, suppliers and employees in the lurch. To members of Congress, however, these are minor inconveniences compared with the urgent national need to draw attention to themselves. When companies are forced to shut down, it’s usually dire. But when Washington shuts down, it’s a tactic.

You and I voted for these jokers, so it seems like an opportune moment to examine ways in which the politicians we send to Washington live in a taxpayer-funded utopia in which normal workplace rules don’t apply. Here are four things Congress can get away with but you and I can’t:

Obsessive-disruptive disorder. Imagine that your company made a big policy change three years ago that you really hated. Now imagine that, instead of getting with the program and joining the team, you spent the past three years complaining about the new policy, seeking ways to obstruct it, and telling everybody you bumped into that the new policy was certain to doom the company. And you did all this while refusing to do whatever work the company hired you to do in the first place. By now, you’d either be the CEO, having deposed prior management in a dramatic boardroom coup, or you’d be out of a job and unemployable, since nobody wants to hire somebody with a reputation as a megalomaniacal troublemaker.

House Republicans are the megalomaniacal troublemakers of the U.S. Congress, clinging to the notion that they'll be able to gut President Obama’s signature health reform law, the Affordable Care Act, if they just concentrate hard enough on that and nothing else. The law has been in place since 2010, and the Supreme Court validated it in 2012. Yet there seems to be no statute of limitations on legislative tantrums thrown in protest.

Disregarding your performance review. Only 10% of Americans say they have confidence in Congress, the lowest approval rating on record. The modern era of bitter partisanship and self-inflicted budget crises has coincided with a 20-point drop in Congress’s approval rating, but that seems only to encourage more of the behavior Americans find repulsive. “It’s very hard … to figure out who has lost their minds,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) mused recently. “One party, the other party, all of us.” Yes.

Being a loss leader forever. Every company loves its profit centers, the parts of the business that generate the highest returns. A well-run company might tolerate a division that detracts from profitability because that division helps enhance the brand image or draw customers, or serves some other important purpose. If the division doesn’t meet any of those criteria, sooner or later, it goes.

Taxpayers fork over about $6 billion a year to pay Congressional salaries and otherwise fund the legislative branch. For our money, we get periodic fiscal crises that threaten to torpedo the economy, with a steady stream of bombastic jabber as a bonus. And instead of enhancing the government’s image, Congress trashes it. Time magazine recently suggested outsourcing Congress to save money and get better results. If the sorry performance we’ve been getting is the best that seasoned professionals can offer, then it’s time to give rank amateurs a chance.

Insulting the boss. American citizens are supposed to be in charge of their elected representatives, yet few Americans have asked for a government shutdown, a new reason to worry about the economy or a never-ending legislative circus that makes America a global laughingstock. Members of Congress are mocking the electorate by shutting down the government that’s supposed to serve them. In a company, such arrogant recklessness would get you fired. In American politics, it gets you on TV.

At least we still control the on-off switch.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.