The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Credit: Robert Lipper

The newspaper Politico has a scary take on the new Congress that will assume office in January: The serious and very difficult issues facing the country will be in the hands of one of the least experienced Congresses in decades.

Between the unusually large 2011 freshman class, retirements and defeated incumbents, the new Congress could have upward of 155 members with less than four years of experience, and " ... the chambers will be filled with rookies and sophomores unbound by the institution's traditions while having virtually no experience doing serious legislative work." Or doing work of any kind in Congress.

The House, under both parties in recent years, sets up calendars that call for members to spend long periods of time back in their districts raising money and campaigning, then returning to Washington for a few days. One veteran lawmaker cracked that they don't have the time or the experience to know one end of the gavel from the other.

Politico says that an influx of new blood could bring fresh ideas and new energy. But based on the new members so far, it could just as easily mean a crop of confrontational, hyperpartisan zealots who don't feel they have to learn anything because they know with total certitude what they know.

Last summer, the new lawmakers came close to driving the nation into technical default; they forced the House leadership to renege on a deal that allowed the nation to stay solvent. Thanks to their intransigence, we still, after three years, don't have an essential national transportation bill and it's conceivable we may not get one, something to keep in mind as we revert to a nation of dirt roads.

Traditionally, lawmakers spent years building expertise and seniority in issues like defense, taxes, transportation, public works and health care, but the new breed, at least so far, disdains both seniority and expertise. They have their slogans and they're sticking to them.

But vital issues await both the lame-duck and the new Congress: What to do about extending the tax cuts? How to avoid an automatic across-the-board $1.3 trillion budget that the Pentagon says will seriously weaken the military? Some kind of planning for the impact of a European debt crisis, or the Chinese economy suddenly going flat? And preparing for another increase in the debt ceiling? Come January, this country could go one of two ways. Nothing so far arouses any confidence that the newcomers will pick -- or are even capable of choosing -- the right direction.

Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.


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