Las Vegas Sun

August 29, 2014

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Heard Elsewhere:

It’s time to put out the fire

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Pete Gallego is tall and lanky, but otherwise he does not really resemble Abraham Lincoln. He doesn’t even look all that much like Daniel Day-Lewis.

But the freshman congressman from West Texas was certainly homespun, plainspoken — and wise — as he talked Tuesday about what ails Congress, this week in particular, and just about any other week you’d like to choose.

“Life is pretty simple in Alpine, Texas,” Gallego said. “Occasionally, we have a fire. When there’s a fire, everybody gets together and does their best to get the fire put out.

“Once it’s out, then we’ll spend some time to see what caused it or who started it. But while the fire is burning, our total focus is putting it out.

“Here in Washington,” Gallego said, “everyone wants to talk about whose fault it is while the fire’s still burning.”

Well, exactly.

Since Congress has returned from a nine-day break that could not have been more ill-timed, the lack of progress on the issue of the budgetary meat ax set to fall Friday has been so remarkable that our nation’s lawmakers might as well have stayed home another week.

Other than a few imprecations (House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that the House doesn’t need to do anything until “the Senate gets off their ass and passes” a bill), it seems that both executive and legislative branches of government are entirely consumed with pretending the fire is not burning, while energetically affixing blame to the thrower of the match.

We have endured a few days of irrelevant sniping between President Barack Obama and the House Republicans about just whose sequester it is, anyway. We have enjoyed exactly zero days of constructive discussion about how to avoid it.

Neil Armstrong, the late astronaut, was a hero, no question. And it’s right, fitting, warm and fuzzy that the House voted Monday night to rename a NASA flight center in California after him.

But for that to be the first vote taken after the “break” must have felt odd to people who are about to lose their day care, be furloughed, inconvenienced by air-traffic shutdowns, closed out of senior nutrition programs, or lose their kids’ Head Start program. “What the heck are they doing back there?” is a common question about Congress, and this week does not help.

The president, too, seems much more willing to beat up Republicans and score political points than he does engineer a way out of this impasse. Yes, a majority of people nationwide ascribe to his version of events, but he seems to be playing that card so forcefully that compromise becomes an even more distant possibility.

Who caused the fire? Everybody did. Who’s putting it out? We’ll get back to you on that.

Gallego gave his first-ever floor speech Tuesday afternoon, on the subject of the sequester. In contrast to the sharp rhetoric frequently heard from his Tea Party predecessor, the Rail-Splitter from Alpine, Texas, in his down-to-earth way, urged bipartisan cooperation.

He is right — there must be a better way to do the country’s business.

After all, as the other Lincoln told the House in 1848, “Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.”

David McCumber is Hearst Newspapers’ Washington bureau chief.

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