- - Monday, January 19, 2015


Let’s face it. Nobody believes that Washington will ever work again.

They’re wrong.

Regulations are being written and laws are being passed. Few of them are blockbusters, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important to somebody or, more to the point, to a lot of people. They are.

It’s just that the federal government is so sprawling that the general-interest news cycle misses or under reports the bulk of what’s accomplished.

That isn’t entirely the media’s fault. The entire concept of representative government is based on the notion that the average citizen doesn’t have the time or interest to monitor and vote on the many programs in a large central government.

We elect people to handle those details. We don’t want to be burdened with them. Instead, we keep track from a blithely ignorant distance.  And that’s ok up to a point.

When the news business lost its monopoly status a while ago – or, more precisely, its oligopoly status – media managers started to worry about profits. News had to be sold rather than simply conveyed. Controversies – real and arranged – began to drive editors’ decisions.

The result has been an under-informed public, even by the lower standards required for a representative government.

When I was a young reporter for the Wall Street Journal, one of the three, main front-page stories on most days was internally labeled DBI – Dull But Important. It didn’t matter that its subject – the outlook for steel or pork bellies and the like – wasn’t exciting. The trend meant something that was worth knowing.  The editors didn’t care that readers weren’t entertained. They would be, at least, informed.

These days, news stories are only sometimes important and almost never dull. Editors crave eyeballs and clicks. DBIs attract neither of those.

So a serious understanding of government has been reserved for those who can afford to pay for it — or look very hard for it. Subscription services from organizations like Bloomberg News and Politico Pro convey the vital minutia to experts and insiders. Interest groups also spread narrower news, but pitched from their own points of view.

The general public gets a dollop of top line news and a constant diet of partisanship, sensationalism and hyperbole.  They hear endlessly about veto threats and confrontations because they sell. Even the best news outlets lean their stories Left or Right to please to their target audiences.

The result is a broad misunderstanding of what Washington is really up to and what it means.

So here’s a story line that’s often under covered: Washington is getting lots of things done and will do so throughout 2015.

Beneath the surface, titanic struggles are underway over pollution control, the role of the U.S. in the world and the future of the Internet. Hundreds of smaller but consequential battles are also being waged in obscure congressional subcommittees and backwater bureaucracies.

The result for a surprising number of them will be action, not inaction.  Congressional leaders have empowered committee chairmen to produce legislation that will actually be voted on. As a consequence, a torrent of potential new laws being sent to President Obama on issues from transportation to taxes. He’ll sign most of them into law contrary to the popular belief that he intends to do otherwise.

The president’s executive actions will also multiply and, despite the uproar some of them have caused, they will remain in effect for years if not permanently. Not all of these will reach the level of his backdoor overhaul of immigration laws. That’s why we haven’t heard much about them. But that doesn’t mean they won’t impact lots of people’s daily lives. They will.

It’s easy to feel frustrated by the pace of official Washington. It’s even easier to miss how much is actually happening there. But there’s a lot more than reaches the public eye.

Jeffrey Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations.

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