Congress Needs To Do The Time Warp

[ Posted Monday, November 26th, 2012 – 18:05 UTC ]

While in a post-turkey daze this past holiday weekend, I believe I've come up with the perfect answer to one of the key political dilemmas Congress is facing right now, as we all race towards the lip of the "fiscal cliff" -- Congress needs a legislative time warp.

By this, I do not mean I expect Congress will suddenly exceed the speed of light (pause for riotous audience laughter...), but instead that Congress needs to do more of a Rocky Horror type of "Time Warp" -- an absurdist dance step which seems rather bizarre and pointless to the uninitiated, but which could be a fun way out of a twist in the plot line. As the song says: "Time is fleeting. Madness takes its toll."

Allow me to explain. While Republicans in Congress are making tentative noises about the possibility of "raising revenues" in whatever deal is struck, they are dogmatically forced to fight against "raising tax rates" on anyone, at any time, for any reason. These minions of Norquist know full well the forces which will be arrayed against them come primary season, should they vote against the sacred pledge they've all signed. Lord Norquist frowns upon raising tax rates, therefore they must not raise tax rates. The furies of the Tea Party will descend upon them otherwise, and they know it.

Not to belittle the tenets of their faith. Because "faith" or "dogma" is the correct term to use. Any man's creed is laughable by those who don't share the same faith, because dogma never can stand up to critical analysis or logical examination. You need look no further for proof of this than the position congressional Republicans find themselves in on the tax rate question. If they vote for a bill on the last day of December which "raises" the tax rate on the top two percent of earners, then they are apostates and will be cast into the void by the Norquistians. If, however, they vote for exactly the same bill on the first of January, this would be allowable by the dictates of their faith because the status quo will have changed and they will now be voting to lower taxes. Not one word of the bill need change, except perhaps the date stamped at the top of it.

Since the tax rates go up for everyone at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, it is an automatic event uninfluenced by their actions, they reason. If they vote for the deal before then (as they see it), they will have voted for taxes to "go up" on two percent of the population -- a mortal sin. If they vote for the deal after this magic point, then they're voting to lower taxes from the new rates (actually, the "old, pre-Bush rates") and it will have the blessings of the Church of Norquist.

There's a way out of this mess. It's an easy one, really, although it does require some suspension of disbelief on everyone's part. Just change the date on the floor of Congress. No, not the date on the bill, the actual date.

Here's where we enter into the science-fiction nature of my suggestion. Congress has all sorts of deadlines it meets throughout the year. Some of these deadlines happen at midnight on a certain day, and some of these deadlines are more nebulous, such as holding a vote open for fifteen minutes. At times, Congress runs into problems meeting these deadlines by the proper minute. So they just "warp" time. Instead of following the real-world clock the rest of the planet is using, they tinker with the "official congressional clock" inside the chambers -- creating their own timeline, in a way.

Say a vote is happening, but the Speaker of the House knows three more votes are needed. Instead of time running out after the mandated fifteen minutes, the legislative clock is stopped at fourteen minutes in (think of a football game clock stopping between plays, perhaps). Arms are twisted, votes are marshalled, and when the votes are in, the clock is allowed to move forward again. At times, this involves a physical clock on the wall which is simply unplugged, but is usually just a handy legislative fiction employed to dance around a hard deadline. At times, the legislative clock is stopped at 11:59 in the evening, and Congress just keeps voting through the night until the objective is reached -- after which the clock will be reset to real-world time once again. Sometimes the clock is even set backwards, to meet a deadline which has already passed. It's Congress' clock, after all, so they're free to do whatever they wish with it.

My suggestion is to work this legislative magic in the other direction. This way, on the floors of Congress, we can "go off the cliff" without really going off the cliff. This would mean that Wall Street wouldn't freak out and every payroll department in the country wouldn't have to go apoplectic over changing tax rates twice within a few days. House Republicans can have their Norquist cake and eat it too, to put it another way.

Congress can convene on some date at the end of the year -- say, Friday, December 28, for instance. They can all unanimously consent to warping not only the clock but the calendar as well, and officially declare the legislative date to now be the first of January. Rather than opening champagne and celebrating the dawn of 2013, instead they will then begin to vote. Since -- legislatively -- it will be beyond the end of the year, the Republicans can rest assured that voting for the compromise deal which raises tax rates on the wealthiest of Americans won't incur the wrath of Norquist. By their logic, remember, they're now voting for a tax rate reduction for 98 percent of the people. The bill can pass, President Obama can sign it, and there will be no gap in the real world's timeline between when 2012 ends and when the new bill takes effect.

In other words, America can go over the fiscal cliff without really going over the fiscal cliff. This is a little surreal (and even downright silly), I fully realize. But I think it'd be a winning solution for all sides of the argument. President Obama could get the deal he wants. Republicans can warp time to avoid the Norquist Conundrum, and still remain conservatively pure of heart and deed. Wall Street will "look the other way" while it happens, with a sigh of relief. And nobody in the entire country will get a paycheck with a huge tax hike -- except the two percent of workers which are the target of the deal. Congresscritters can scurry off home for the holiday and not have to work late on New Year's Eve in some sort of showdown session. Late night comics will have plenty fodder for jokes for the next few weeks. It would truly be "win-win" all around.

There is nothing to stop Congress from warping time to their liking, as insane as that sounds. Or perhaps that should be "insay-ay-ay-ayne" as it sounds. Everybody sing along: "Let's do the Time Warp again! It's just a jump to the left... and then a step to the right...."

-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


13 Comments on “Congress Needs To Do The Time Warp”

  1. [1] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Fiendish in its intricacy CW!

    Just make sure Congress puts in a provision to resynchronize the legislative and official calenders, so that legislative terms don't expire few days too early. Wouldn't want to confuse the cherry blossoms!

    The easiest way to do this might be to initiate the time warp on Jan 31 to Jan 1, then declare Congressional Jan 2 "The Day the Earth Stood Still in Congress."

    Two classic movie tie ins! We could have VP Biden start things off by declaring "Gort, Klaatu Barada Nicto." Maybe we could even build a giant novelty flying saucer and glue it to the capital dome so it looks like it's sticking out after a crash!

  2. [2] 
    dsws wrote:

    If only the congresscritters were trying to curry favor with CW, instead of with Grover.

    But there's a problem with having Congress do the time warp again: "It's just a jump to the left ...". Congress will never go for that.

  3. [3] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    Very cute, Chris.

    Of course, even easier and more understandable: There's nothing stopping Congress from pushing the tax portion of the "fiscal cliff" earlier. For instance, they and the President can vote to have the tax portion expire at noon on Dec 28, the President signs it at 12:30, and then they vote to decrease taxes on 98% of Americans at 1 PM.

    The benefit is that this would be easier for the American public to understand.

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    TheStig -

    The cherry blossoms are going to be confused for years, that's for sure...

    Man, I'd pay good money to see Biden say "Gort, Klaatu Barada Nicto." Heh.

    dsws -

    "And then a step to the rih-ih-ih-ih-ihght" So what's the problem?


    Speak2 -

    That is a flaw in my thinking: the "P.T. Barnum" problem... "there's a sucker born every minute, and another one to take him...." Always a problem...



  5. [5] 
    michty6 wrote:

    This is a little surreal (and even downright silly), I fully realize

    Lol you know you have one completely screwed up party when this suggestion is neither surreal or silly but actually makes sense in light of their refusal to break the 'pledge'!

    And thanks, I now have the Time Warp stuck in my head.

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I can also visualize Obama doing the line in his deliberative, cool style.

    Ahh, Gort... Klaatu...Barada..emm, Nicto

  7. [7] 
    michty6 wrote:

    On the insanity of Republicans:

    From House Speaker John Boehner, on President Obama's request to raise the debt ceiling:

    There is a price for everything.

    I know this seems unexceptional, but really, it's not. It's gobsmacking. Ever since the election, Republicans have been acting as if financial catastrophe is purely a problem for the president. To listen to Boehner, you'd think that avoiding the austerity crisis (nee fiscal cliff) is a partisan goal, not something that Republicans are supposed to care about for its own sake. Likewise, default on the national debt is the president's problem, full stop. If he doesn't want markets to panic, then he needs to cough up some goodies.

    What's even more gobsmacking is that nobody in the press seems to find this at all out of the ordinary. The leader of the opposition basically shrugs his shoulders in public and says that if the president doesn't want the national economy to collapse, he'll have to pay a price. The response is another collective shrug. That's Republicans for you, it seems to say.

  8. [8] 
    LewDan wrote:


    Unfortunately, that is typically Republican. The media's been ignoring it for the last 50 years. Why should we be surprised now?

  9. [9] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Yeh it amazes me that only since Obama came to power is raising the debt ceiling considered a political tool. Given the massive smack in the face the economy took last time, you'd think Republicans would be past that point. It amazes me just how low they will sink and how much of the country they will destroy to get their own way...

  10. [10] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Given the massive smack in the face the economy took last time, you'd think Republicans would be past that point. It amazes me just how low they will sink and how much of the country they will destroy to get their own way...

    not seeming to care whether or not the economy collapses may seem unscrupulous, but it is certainly a shrewd bargaining position. since for the past twenty years neither the media nor the democrats have been willing or able to hold republicans responsible for it, i see no reason why they wouldn't continue. changing that pattern of behavior will take a lot more than the results of one year's elections.

  11. [11] 
    dsws wrote:

    If you're playing chicken, you want to convince the other side that you're a sociopath. The most effective way of doing this is to have a genuine sociopath in the driver's seat.

  12. [12] 
    dsws wrote:

    "And then a step to the rih-ih-ih-ih-ihght" So what's the problem?

    They can't do a jump to the left first. That would be a violation of everything they hold sacred.

  13. [13] 
    michty6 wrote:

    They can't do a jump to the left first. That would be a violation of everything they hold sacred.

    Don't you know they lost the election because they weren't right-wing enough! You need to listen to Rush more, so you can find out the truth!

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