Framing the Dialogue

A House divided against itself cannot please constituents

In this series I choose a current news article and you decide via a multiple choice format which terms were used and whether others would have been more accurate…….

It’s hard to imagine what could drive public __________ (disgust, love, approval, opinion) of Congress even lower than it has been this year. But a pending public ethics trial of one of the House’s most senior __________ (Democrats, Republicans, Democrats, Democrats) (and possibly a second) and an angry, prolonged__________ (hissy fit, tirade, weiner session, melt-down) on the House floor that has gone around the cable networks and YouTube just may be the answer.

Anyone who has ever spent time talking with voters — in shopping malls or on soccer fields, at their doorsteps or in focus groups — has heard the most common complaints about politicians in Washington.

One is an expression of __________ (disgust, anger, anger, disgust) over what people perceive as elected officials’ sense of __________ (honor, corruption, privilege, humor). Many Americans believe that elected officials go to Washington and __________ (forget, lose touch with, reject, hate) where they came from. Instead of representing the people, the politicians adopt an attitude of __________ (entitlement, privilege, corruption, haughtiness). Instead of protecting the public interest, politicians are seen as being in bed with _________ (labor unions, Wall Street, Congressional pages,  lobbyists) and looking to line their own __________ (pockets, purses, wallets, bank accounts).

The other complaint is irritation over the way Washington __________ (doesn’t work, works, fails, continuously grows). Partisan bickering takes precedence over common civility. Scoring points becomes more important than getting things done. Even at a time when the most engaged part of the electorate has become almost as partisan as the politicians, many Americans are still frustrated by what they see happening in Washington.

Those two sentiments represent tarring with a broad brush, often unfairly. Nonetheless, they add up to an indictment that has made Congress consistently one of the country’s least popular institutions — and especially so this year.

The ethics charges lodged against former House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) present major __________ (problems, benefits, opportunity, funding) for the Democrats.  Having run against what they called a culture of corruption by the Republicans in their successful 2006__________ (coup, takeover, fleecing, control) of the House, Democrats now head toward the final months of the midterm elections with the prospect of a highly publicized trial that _________ (is hard to hide, exposes, is another example of, alleges) corruption on the part of the __________ (corrupt, well-liked, sleazy, corrupt) Rangel.

Many months ago, White House officials were privately __________ (downplaying, expressing concern, denying, claiming it was Bush’s fault) that the Rangel case could balloon into a major political __________ (boondoggle, black eye, example, problem) for the Democrats unless House leaders __________ (dealt with it expeditiously and forcefully, hid it, blamed Bush, buried the charges). Now it threatens to become a nightmare scenario for the Democrats on the eve of the fall elections.

Rangel has been stubbornly resistant to striking a deal that would __________ (let him off, let him wrangle out of trouble, avoid a public trial, promote him) by the ethics committee. Proud and __________ (defiant, criminal, unethical, sleazy), he so far has given no sign that he intends to do anything other than fight the charges, despite the desire of House leaders to avoid such a(n) __________ (catastrophe, exposure, spectacle, can of worms) .

President Obama added to the pressure on Rangel to yield when he told CBS News on Friday: “I think Charlie Rangel served a very long time and served his constituents very well. But these allegations are __________ (Bush’s fault, not my fault, Cheney’s fault, very troubling), and, you know, he’s somebody who is at the end of his __________ (career, usefulness to me, life, usefulness to me), 80 years old. I’m sure that what he wants is to be able to end his career with dignity, and my hope is that that  __________ (I am not implicated, happens, is forgotten by 2012, I can offer him an ambassadorship).”

The ethics committee, which has often been __________ (slow to move, diligent in their duties, transparent in their investigation, reluctant to rule) against fellow House members, now has outlined a serious, 13-count case against Rangel that will have to play out over the next few months unless __________ (the main stream media is able to squash the story, Brittney Spears shaves her head again, the congressman changes his mind, Apple comes out with a new iPhone).

Now there is another ethics case brewing, this involving another senior Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.). The Waters case involves her actions in helping __________ (banks, auto companies, labor unions, Al Gorge) including one in which her husband had a financial interest, receive federal bailout funds. Politico reported Friday night that, like Rangel, she too has decided to fight the charges and proceed to a public trial.

The ethics charges are another __________ (blot, stain, indictment, embarasment) on the institution of Congress. What happened on the House floor Thursday underscores why many Americans have lost confidence in the institution and its members. Anyone watching cable news the past 48 hours has probably seen Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) in a full-throated __________ (diatribe, hissy fit, whining fit, meltdown) — aimed at the Republicans.

Weiner may have had good reason to be upset. Republicans added a politically charged amendment involving illegal immigrants to an otherwise seemingly popular bill that would enhance health benefits for first responders to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, who continue to suffer respiratory and other ailments.

Weiner knew that the bill was being held up by politics. But he lost control on the floor of the House. His behavior, not the merits of his argument, became the story. Aficionados of New York politics contend Weiner’s attention-getting display is part of a _________ (mental disorder, plan, hissy fit, strategy) to make himself mayor after Michael Bloomberg finishes his third term. Whatever his motives, Weiner turned into the poster child for congressional _________ (hissy fits, distemper, hissy fits, hissy fits).

Not content with that, he and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) went on Fox News on Friday and put on another startling display of discourtesy, shouting over one another, pointing fingers and ignoring the host’s repeated pleas for _________ (civility, intelligence, logic, maturity). That may feed ratings and produce clicks and eyeballs on web sites, but it further _________ (undermines, proves, illustrates, highlights) the image of Congress.

Gallup puts congressional approval at 11 percent, one point lower than its worst-ever rating. Congress stands last in a list of 16 institutions in terms of public __________ (derision, confidence, anger, trust). The legislative branch is now eight points lower than health maintenance organizations, 11 points lower than television news and 14 points lower than newspapers. By about 2-1, Americans say they prefer to vote for a candidate this year who has never been in __________ (ACORN, Congress, SEIU, Arkansas).

Between now and November, partisan warfare will only increase. Republicans have been attacking Obama’s __________ (czars, vacations, golf scores, policies) for more than a year. Democrats believe there is no other way to __________ (cement post-congressional jobs, fleece the American people, hold down their losses, pass more legislation that they haven’t read) than to attack, attack and attack. What Americans will see and hear about their elected representatives and the challengers seeking to replace them, particularly in television commercials, will be overwhelmingly __________ (false, negative, poorly done, effective).

What has happened over the past few days can only add to the public’s__________ (anger, anger, dissatisfaction, anger) with politics in Washington. For the next few months, politicians will set aside those concerns in an all-out battle over control of the House and Senate. Then they and the president will return in January and attempt to __________ (steal more money, waste more tax money,  govern again, destroy our economy).

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