At long last, 2015 is almost at an end. It's been a challenging year for American governance, in so many ways. Between the looming specters of international and domestic terrorism, gun violence, and mass protests in city streets throughout America, it seems like there's always some fresh new tragedy or urgent situation right around the corner. Wouldn't it be nice if our legislature would act? Here are six New Year's resolutions for Congress, because they could stand a little more dedication.
Obviously, some of these won't happen. When you're a progressive living under a Republican-led Congress, the extent to which your whole slate of political priorities can get put on hold is distressing. After all, the GOP managed to stop the Obama administration and the early Democratic Congress from passing countless bills from a majority position. Now, with solid leads in both houses, they can basically freeze out anything they don't want.
But New Year's resolutions aren't always about making the safe or easy choice, right? Sometimes you have to reach for the stars. Here are some of the pledges that Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and the gang should make as we move into 2016.
1. Do The Right Thing Without Jon Stewart Having To Shame You
Remember back in 2010, when congressional Republicans scuttled the Zadroga Act, which created a $4+ billion fund to benefit ailing first responders to the 9/11 attacks? They might wish you've forgotten, but that really did happen ― the party of "never forget" became the party of "maybe later." Back then, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart was widely credited with fueling the bill's eventual passage in late December, thanks to a series of searing, incensed criticisms of Congress, and a whole episode devoted to interviewing four such first responders.
And yet, in 2015, we found ourselves in the same place. With the Zadroga Act approaching expiration and the Congress apparently unwilling to extend it, Stewart again devoted a whole episode of The Daily Show to the cause ― quite a feat, considering it isn't even his show anymore. Memo to lawmakers: Don't waste Jon Stewart's time anymore. Just do the right thing on your own. On Dec. 19th, a 75-year extension of the Zadroga Act was passed, and it'll be signed into law by President Obama next year.
2. Pass The Employment Non-Discrimination Act
Are you a progressive? Hey! Isn't it infuriating how many places in America can still fire you for your sexual identity or orientation? It's downright disgraceful, and it could be stopped (or at leas,t made federally illegal) through the passage of ENDA, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which was passed by the Senate in late 2014, and has languished untouched in the House of Representatives ever since.
Are you a conservative? Hey! Isn't it infuriating how progressives keep accusing you of being the party of bigotry and narrow-mindedness? Here's a idea: Pass ENDA, and demonstrate to the world that you're not! This should not be hard in 2016 — although obviously, it is.
3. Propose And Pass Concrete Policies On Police Brutality
If you peruse social media, or listen to the statements of conservatives throughout the country, the fact that black voters staggeringly reject the GOP is something of a sore spot. But instead of grappling honestly with why that is, you get a lot of inflammatory chatter about how black Americans are just being duped by the Democrats. Show me a politically engaged black progressive on social media who's never had the wildly racist words "Democratic plantation" hurled at them, and I'll show you a lucky person indeed.
And the kicker is this: With a nationwide protest movement against police violence ongoing, and a trio of Democratic candidates who've mostly preferred lip service to pointed, concrete policy proposals, there's room to grow here. It'd be a major disruption to the traditional conservative political coalition, sure, but such shifts have happened before, and the fact that often-unarmed black citizens are being disproportionately slain by officers of the state isn't hard to protest on traditional conservative principles.
If the Republicans actually had a moment of rebirth on this issue, it could help them make inroads in places they haven't been welcomed in decades. Of course, you can't really do that unless you first ...
4. ... Admit That Racism Is Still A Thing
Seriously. If you want to represent the entire population of America, you shouldn't constantly tell the victims of observable everyday personal and institutional racism that they're imagining it, or that they're whiny grievance-peddlers. Not only is it politically dense, but it also makes you look like an asshole — and that's actually the most generous analysis.
5. Push Back On Climate Change Denial
At a certain point, you have to assume that the Republican Party will start shifting to a more neutral position on climate change, right? That's the only way climate-related legislation could gain any traction right now, at least ― as long as officeholders fear that their ill-informed constituents (many of whom are themselves victims in this, having been deliberately lied to for years) won't accept the science on climate change, or as long as they give into the conspiracy theories and pseudoscience themselves, we'll never make any progress. And for an issue as far-reaching and existential as climate change, that's a nightmare.
6. Start Growing Beards Again
Come on now. I can't be the only one who digs Speaker Paul Ryan's new beard. Back in the good old days, beards on male politicians were much more in vogue, but it's grown increasingly rare in recent years. According to Politico, Ryan is the first speaker of the house to sport a beard since Massachusetts Republican Frederick Gillett did so during the 1920s.