Whatever the question is, Washington is not the answer, at least not for the rest of this year. The president is dispirited and the Congress is deadlocked. The daily political life of the capital seems more and more to be killing time until the fall election.
President Bush recently held a not very reassuring press conference. His solution for high gas prices is for the Democratic Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. For the economy, it is for Congress to make his tax cuts permanent. It's fair game to blame the Democrats for this but Bush couldn't get either measure passed when his own Republicans controlled Congress.
The congressional Democrats can't do much because they don't have the votes to break Republican filibusters or the votes to override Bush's vetoes. The Iraq war funding bill is a must-pass measure and the Democrats will give Bush all he asked to fight that war - $108 billion. But they plan to add some goodies, including expanded veterans' benefits and extended unemployment benefits. Bush says he'll veto if they do.
The White House and the two sides in Congress did combine earlier this year to pass an economic stimulus package, whose rebate checks are now going out, but that may have been this year's legislative high tide.
Action is still pending on another crisis, home foreclosures and the credit crunch. You would think that would demand immediate attention. But Bush says the Democratic plan puts too much taxpayer money at risk and breaking that stalemate now depends on congressional Republicans, who so far haven't shown themselves all that willing to bail out their Democratic colleagues.
In the meantime, consumer confidence has fallen to its lowest level since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The government announced that the growth rate for the first quarter of this year was 0.6 percent, the same as the last quarter of 2007. Optimistic souls took comfort that it wasn't as bad as expected (that was 0.5 percent) and technically we're not in recession.
The economy may rebound - there are actually some good signs out there - but it will have to do so without help from Washington.