Julian Zelizer: Congress' Fiscal Moment of Truth





Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of the new book "Governing America."

(CNN) -- Avoiding the fiscal cliff can be a moment of truth for Congress as an institution. The ability of Congress to reach a deal on its own, rather than relying on tax hikes and spending cuts by default, would be a powerful push back against the loud chorus of critics who for almost a decade have been decrying dysfunction on Capitol Hill.

According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans consider legislators to be some of the least trusted professionals in the nation. Car salespeople ranked only slightly lower.

This is not the first time that Americans have felt this way. During the early 1960s, Congress was widely derided as a broken branch of government. A bipartisan alliance of Southern Democrats and Republicans used the committee process to bottle up legislation for years. "The sapless branch," Sen. Joseph Clark called Congress in an outburst of frustration with his colleagues. But this period of gridlock was followed by a huge burst of legislation that resulted in tax cuts, voting rights, civil rights, Medicare and Medicaid, education policy, a War on Poverty and much more....



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