The meeting did not start well. Neither House Majority Leader James Henson, Republican Nevada, nor Senate majority leader Jane Fulwell, Democrat Massachusetts, had any reason to be happy. Tall and fat Henson knew going in that the petite Fulwell saw no reason to compromise, and Fulwell felt the same about him.
Fulwell started off, “Listen Jim, your idea that you can eliminate, or cut back on Obamacare is fantasyland stupidity. First off, undoing the bureaucracy is nigh impossible. Secondly, millions of Americans have come to depend on it. Politically, if you could get it through congress, which you can’t, Hillary would veto it so fast that your head would spin.”
Henson responded, “So it doesn’t make any difference to you that ‘affordable’ healthcare rates went up 25% between 2015 and 2016?”
“Do you think that it wouldn’t have gone up without Obamacare?”
“According to you, we’ll never find out.”
“Now let me tell you what I want. The minimum pay has to be raised. We’ve gone years without a change, ignoring inflation and what people need to get by. I want a $15 minimum wage. I might budge a little.”
“Anything over $9 is impossible. It is ridiculous that we should even think about ruining small businesses and passing along higher costs to the consumer. Anyway, any state that wants to raise minimum wages can. There is no reason for the Feds to get involved. You are delusional if you think you can get anything through the House.”
“There isn’t any reason to be insulting.”
“OK, you’re right. I’ll treat for lunch.”
“I guess we can make one deal today,” agreed Fulwell.
After lunch, they agreed to meet again in a week and see if there was any movement.
The next week, things didn’t get any better. Each went through a checklist of what they wanted and found nothing to agree on. New weapons systems, more aid to education, subsidies to renewable energy, R&D tax breaks, on and on, there was no area of agreement.
Fulwell said, “I’ve got an idea that will sound way out.”
“I do too, but you go first.”
“I think that we enact no new laws, and except for entitlements, don’t change the budget from the last biennial.
“I’m willing to kick around your idea while I have another drink.”
After a couple more drinks, he said, “OK, I see what you’re getting at. There’s no way either of us gets what we want, but that is not only the bad news for us, but the good news as well. We maintain the status quo and each can blame the other. You kept us from enacting the long overdue increase in the minimum wage, and we kept you from overturning the ruinous Obamacare.”
“So you agree that we can make progress by not having any progress, and at least for this congress, do nothing?”
“I’ll go along. Have you talked to your people?”
“A few. They are cautiously optimistic.”
“I will sell it to the Repubs by reminding them that a lack of change is conservative.”
“Now that we agree on my idea, what was yours?”
“You should never wear pants. You look much better in skirts.”
They both laughed and had a few more drinks.
A week later, both Henson and Fulwell held press conferences announcing that, due to the recalcitrant other party, they would be unable to pass any legislation that their constituents counted on. Dire threats were made by their backers. Union leader Jason Atkins tweeted, “So why even elect Democrats?” The president of General Motors, Gene Pitkin, said: “Nobody in government gives a damn about business.”
Initially, President Clinton, known to her friends as Madame President and to most of the country as Hillary, did indeed veto the budget, but her veto was overridden. She then said, “I’ll do as much as I can do to further the interests of the country, but I wish that I could get some help from congress. This budget does not meet the needs of working people or the needs of the military.”
The punditry was outraged. According to Sarah Wilkins of the Portland Oregonian, “It is hard to imagine a congress worse than the 113th or 114th congresses, but this one qualifies. There is no help for the economy or housing or education. If we are not entering a new dark age, as a minimum, it is twilight in America.” Her statement was one of the complimentary quotes.
Despite all that, representatives and senators were held in line by their leaders. No new laws were passed before the 2020 elections.
As a result, the military budget got no increase. In order to hold the line on pay, promotions were cut, and recruitment became much more selective. No big-budget weapons systems were initiated. This caused Chief Of Staff Cameron Smith to declare, “We are no longer prepared to fight three wars at once, and may have to cut back on our treaty commitments.” What he thought was a warning became a punch line for a herd of comedians. Dave Haley, a media gadfly, sparked a storm of controversy when he asked, “If we had had a smaller military during the Bush administration, would we have avoided the Iraq fiasco?”
Across all of government, promotions, travel, and hiring were cut. States discovered that if they wanted helicopters or military weapons for their police departments, they would have to buy their own. Very few were interested. If the states wanted money for education, they had to pay more of their own way. Some states raised taxes, and some didn’t.
After a few months without the sky falling, a conservative Nike retiree in Bend, Oregon, started producing “Just Do Nothing” buttons paraphrasing the Nike “Just Do It” motto. Nike mumbled and grumbled but did nothing for fear of antagonizing a large portion of the populace that was happy with a do-nothing congress.
Business was divided around fairly clear lines. The ones that were having subsidies or tax breaks expire cried a lot, and the ones that were not being subsidized thought that it was about time to get rid of the subsidies. Some conservatives remembered that one of their icons had said that some of the best acts of Congress were ones that weren’t passed.
The labor unions, that had expected possible legislation both for and against them, were neutral.
Progressives were generally disappointed, but at least were happy about no more breaks for business.
The tax preparers got less business because there were no changes to tax regulation and it was easier for people to do their own taxes. As a result, many of them had to look for productive work. The same was true of lobbyists, who lost jobs in droves. Anyone who was not a tax preparer or lobbyist was either neutral or happy about the fate of tax preparers and lobbyists.
By the time the 2018 elections rolled around, the sky still had not fallen despite all of the pessimists’ predictions. The economy was growing at about 3% a year, which was a little better than was predicted before the do nothing congress took hold. The deficit was down. A lot of special interest groups were livid, but the majority of Americans were satisfied. As a result, just about every living congressman and woman who had not decided to do something better instead of governing was re-elected.
Between 2018 and 2020, there was bipartisan talk about going beyond “do nothing” to “undo things.” Subtracting laws might even be better than not adding laws. Agriculture subsidies to millionaires, pointless regulation, tax breaks, and hordes of Federal mandates were listed for possible undoing. All of the talks took place behind closed doors, awaiting the results of the 2020 election.
In that same time period, some rich people decided that there were opportunities for either good works or good profits. Progressives offered aid to schools in the form of awards for excellence in teaching, tutoring, and interactive computer programs. Traditional liberals were aghast at what they saw as usurping a Federal responsibility. Capitalists worked on startups to lower the price of housing and alternate energy. Again, there was mumbling that such questionable pursuits should get government subsidies and requirements, but there were billionaires willing to take chances with their own money. They also got great press as a bonus.
Hillary Clinton ran for re-election in 2020 with the standard Democratic platform of higher minimum wages, more money for education, and more regulation. The Republicans ran Senator Stein of Arizona, who espoused lower taxes, less regulation, and more business subsidies. Clinton and Stein agreed that more troops and aid were needed in the Middle East, and each had a separate list of urgently needed tax breaks.
Ms. Clinton got 102 votes in the Electoral College, Mr. Stein got 90 votes, and the Do Nothing candidate, Jill Jackson of Kansas, got 248 votes and the presidency.
Originally Appeared in Potluck and Eskimo Pie