I read an article in which a parent said, "Even when your kids say they hear you, you know they don't hear you. And if by chance they do hear you, they don't do what you tell them."
Sounds like Congress. For years, Congress has not heard what the vast majority of voters were saying about the job they are doing. Unfortunately, Congress as a whole listens to a minority, because a minority of the voters choose -- in a primary -- who will run for seats. Then the majority of voters (who can't vote in the primary because they're independents, or who just don't vote) are stuck with "the lesser of two evils."
Even so, Congress has managed to look the other way and not accomplish much at all.
Particularly this Congress, the 113th, which puts the "Do Nothing" Congress of Harry Truman's to shame. It literally has the worst record in our history of doing nothing. The spin for underperformance? House Speaker John Boehner justified the nonsense: "We should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal." Even by that standard, Congress has failed: In 47 attempts to repeal Obamacare (a program the public wants), they've failed each and every time.
The public also has demanded gun violence legislation, immigration reform, paying our bills, passing a budget (the deadline is Jan. 15), funding the government's basic operations, reforming the tax code, repairing our crumbling infrastructure, securing voting rights, etc. The Congress (which is divided) shrugs, and the people suffer.
When a child doesn't listen, parents must do it themselves. And that is what is going on, almost quietly, behind the vexing, noxious, endless verbal confrontations Congress is addicted to. States are passing laws and finding solutions to pressing problems that Congress has failed so spectacularly to address -- problems such as immigration, which the Constitution has reserved to the national government.
At the very top, President Obama is also doing end runs (and some play-action-fake passes). The result is a major ad hoc shift in our federal system: Power is moving to the executive branch, and Congress is losing additional influence to state legislatures.
Here are a few examples:
Immigration: Eleven million undocumented citizens are living and working in our country without their citizenship being acknowledged. I call them citizens because many have been here for decades. They are the parents of children born and raised as Americans -- who are citizens in their own right. They work, pay taxes, even serve in our military. Since 1980, the percentage of foreign-born residents of some states has increased 50 percent or more. California's foreign-born residents have gone from 15 percent of its population in 1980 to 27.2 percent in 2010; from 14 to 22.2 percent in New York; from 11 to 19.5 percent in Florida, and from 6 to 16.4 percent in Texas.
On Jan. 2 of this year, thousands of immigrants formed lines outside the Nevada DMV offices to get driver's licenses and become legal drivers. The reality is, undocumented residents are citizens in every way but lack the path to legal recognition. It's time to fix that.
California and many states are granting in-state tuition regardless of immigration status. California businesses (many of which benefit from recruiting and concealing low-paid foreign workers) now must observe a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. States are eagerly seeking foreign residents, bringing an infusion of young workers for their ailing economies.
All this, and more, is happening at the state level, while all Congress could do was to shut down the government altogether. Meanwhile, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Pew Research analysis found that the immigration reform from Congress "could bring states, localities $2 billion a year."
Minimum Wage: Economic columnist Ezra Klein told his readers this week that "Economists agree: Raising the minimum wage reduces poverty." The American people agree. Their state legislators are listening. On New Year's Day, four states raised their minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage requirement. There are now 21 states that have a higher minimum wage than the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. This, while Congress dawdles.
Marijuana Laws: There has been a sea change in public opinion. Congress won't touch the issue, but the states are acting. Twenty states now allow medical marijuana, and two, Colorado and Washington, also permit its recreational use.
Gay Marriage: There has also been a sea change on public opinion on gay marriage. Seventeen states now allow same-gender marriages -- not including Utah, which did briefly over the holidays before state officials requested a temporary stay. More are coming as bills work their way through state legislatures.
Gun Control: Perhaps the hottest of all the issues before the Congress. Congress has done little, but the states have reacted by loosening, not tightening, gun control laws. Agree with that view or not, the states have acted on the issue, while Congress does what it does best: goes nowhere.
Except on vacation.