The Buzz

November 21, 2013

Congress, thy name is procrastination

Political success, like the holiday retail sales period, relies on the last-minute rush.

The Buzz

The facts, faces and hum of local politics with Steve Kraske and Dave Helling

It was, I thought, a brilliant idea.

I had been a reporter for only six months, with long sideburns and a growing fear of disco music. Thanksgiving was approaching, and my boss wanted story ideas.

“Why don’t we interview retailers?” I asked. “They’re pretty busy the day after Thanksgiving.”

He looked at me with a slightly raised eyebrow. Apparently, he wanted

new

ideas.

Since that ancient time, stories about what is now called Black Friday have only grown. In fact, it’s likely every reporter in America has written at least one day-after-the-holiday piece.

And a staple of those stories is explaining the importance of Black Friday and the holiday season to retailers’ bottom lines: 40 percent (or 30, or 50, or 25, pick a number) of a shopkeeper’s profit depends on holiday business, we’re told.

Perhaps this large percentage strikes you as interesting. Businesses that rely so heavily on one month’s outcome, you might think, should be considering ways to sell more stuff all year long.

But Black Friday’s significance reflects a common thread of contemporary thought in America: Big events are now seen as more important than steady performance.

You see it on the TV networks, which bounce series from place to place while betting on one-time specials to draw big audiences. In sports, the regular season takes a back seat to ever-expanding playoff calendars. Movies rely on huge first weekends, not months of viewing.

But it’s most prominent in Congress. When the history of the 2013 legislative session is written, it will include lots of last-minute, high-drama votes on fiscal cliffs, tax deals and debt limits.

Yet as the year ends, the routine business of Congress remains unfinished. Spending bills sit unapproved. There’s no budget. Routine confirmations are delayed. There’s still no farm bill.

Through the end of October, Congress had passed just 47 public laws, about one a week.

As a result, the legislative process is now conducted in a constant air of crisis. This prompts members of both parties to attach controversial ideas to must-pass bills, the only kind of bills that ever reach the floor.

And we may see the process repeat itself next month, when last-minute spending bills collide with new sequester cuts and then Obamacare changes are glued on.

I thought about proposing a news story on this topic. It would be another easy example of the sad dysfunction of our national government.

But it probably wouldn’t have made the newspaper. Apparently, here at The Star, the boss wants

new story ideas.

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