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November 4, 2012

The Zombie Congress

By

They needed a script. So they wrote one. In three days. No biggie, anyway; they made up most of the dialogue as they went along.

They started shooting with $6,000. Because that was all the money they had. And it became an instant cult classic.

It was 1968. Amid a failing economy and a flailing war, "Night of the Living Dead" fit right in with the zeitgeist of the period. Today, the zombie apocalypse has become American shorthand for a world falling apart. When American angst rises, the zombies come back. No wonder then that, after a decade of war and years of the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression, the dead are back and hungrier than ever.

And not just on TV. In May, the Centers for Disease Control had to publicly weigh in to quash a zombie scare sparked by a drug-fueled assault in Florida. In September, FEMA hosted a webinar on how to respond to the flesh-eating dead.

Zombie-land is definitely worrisome. And not just because of the walking dead's dietary choices. Equally troubling are the behaviors of the living. They make all the wrong decisions at exactly the wrong time. They go into dark places when they shouldn't. They panic when they need to remain calm. Generally speaking, the un-undead in Zombie-land act badly and stupidly.

Now, here's the really scary thought: No matter which political party comes out on top tomorrow, Washington will turn into Zombie-land within weeks.

That's because Congress will reconvene for a "lame-duck" session, in which the walking dead (members who won't return next year) have a post-mortem chance to leave their mark on the nation's policy. Yes, they'll be facing the same intractable problems they've been unable to solve for the last two years, but zombies aren't rational. And so they'll lumber on, trying to do the deed in just a few days or weeks.

The living Congress left a lot undone -- for example, a budget that never got passed, and an agreement on how to avoid the Fiscal Cliff and Taxmageddon. And then there are treaties -- several of them -- that could be ratified if the Senate hung around long enough and enough arms got twisted.

The key for lawmakers looking to survive in lame-duck Zombie-land is simple: Don't panic! Instead, do as little as possible and wait calmly until the walking dead stagger from the Capitol and the new Congress convenes.

From a national security perspective, there is precious little this Congress can do to protect us from real enemies. Harry Reid's cybersecurity bill would create as many problems as it tries to solve. Better to wait, and get it right.

There is no real urgency to ratify even a single treaty. Indeed, 37 senators have already signed a letter pledging to oppose the ratification of any treaties during lame duck. Why go into that blind alley?

Nor is lame duck a good time to fix the automatic cuts slated to hit the Pentagon, the intelligence community and Homeland Security. The short-term damage is already done. Officials have already begun shutting off or scaling back programs and activities in anticipation of the cuts. Some defense contractors have already started letting people go. Rushing to fix the wrong-headed cuts in lame duck won't fix much, but it could mean running headlong into some really bad trade-offs, like tax increases.

The best course of action is nonaction. Let the nightmare of this Congress pass and the new, living Congress tackle these problems through the regular order of business. That would make for bad cinema, but much better governance.

Examiner Columnist James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in The Examiner.

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