Most Americans have been enjoying the holiday haze since House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) folded and allowed the two-month extension of unemployment insurance and the Social Security tax cut, and other key matters. Indeed, if the French take the month of August off by law, we almost do the same in the period between Christmas and New Year. Except for retail establishments that support the great American pastime – shopping – few businesses got substantive work done in the last week.
Now that Kwanzaa and New Year's Day have past, the games will begin again. The House of Representatives is back January 17, and the Senate returns on January 23. House Republicans will be hell-bent on finding ways to pay for the legislation passed on December 22, and Boehner, whose humiliating concession to President Obama had to irk him, will probably be ready to rumble when he returns to Washington.
In the time between now and January 17, people ought to be writing, calling, and visiting members of Congress in their home offices, urging them to minimize cuts to things like education. If we need to make budget cuts, perhaps those cuts can be concentrated on our defense budget. Indeed, as the Occupy Movement is reorganizing itself (I hear they plan to Occupy the Rose Bowl), perhaps they could target key offices, including Boehner's, for a demonstration. While I've been critical about what I call "Occupy outcomes", I salute the organization for reminding us of the income inequality that riddles our nation and has gotten worse, not better, in recent years. To begin the occupation on Wall Street, and to spread out to hundreds of cities all over the world, was a brilliant, headline-grabbing move. Now, perhaps, our friends can get more practical and Occupy some congressional home office to remind some of these tone-deaf folk what many of their constituents are thinking and feeling.
Congress will have less than six weeks to decide if the two-month tax cut will be extended through the rest of the year. Given their penchant for taking deadlines to the last minute, and refusing to compromise with President Obama, we are likely to find ourselves in the same position on February 20 as we were on December 20, at an impasse. The brinkmanship is getting old, yet we can expect nothing else unless a few House Republicans change their minds about the way this matter will be handled when Congress reconvenes. Otherwise, and most likely, let the games begin.
The games may have new rules this time around. President Obama is rising in approval polls, while Congress is falling. The public is fed up by the obstructionism that seems to dictate almost every interaction between the White House and Capitol Hill. Congress seems to exist in a Washington bubble, disconnected from the rest of the world. Recent data about the number of Congressional millionaires – many are part of the one percent – suggest that our legislators don't share our concerns about the cost of groceries, gasoline, or health insurance. It is virtually impossible for an ordinary person to be elected to Congress, because ordinary people don't usually have the finances to fund a campaign. The Obama campaign proved to be an exception, with frequent Internet requests for small amounts of money -- $5 or even $3. Wealthy legislators need not employ those tactics. Their campaigns are either self or lobby financed.
Occupy's momentum suggests, perhaps, that the Occupy movement, if organized, can be a significant political force. Could there be an Occupy candidate, or two, in key 2012 political races? Could the street heat turn into the kind of Congressional heat that would give another perspective to these frequent impasses? We expect to see all kinds of games in the first six weeks of this legislative session. But the games desperately need new players.
The official games begin January 17 or so. But some of us need to start playing now by reminding our vacationing Congressional leaders, of both parties, what is at stake with continuing high unemployment and increasing poverty. Don't let Congress come back to Washington without hearing from you. These high-stake games affect the economic status of most of the 99 percent.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.