Send in the Clowns? We have a surplus of them in Congress!

When a scandal like the GSA’s $823,000 trip to Las Vegas comes along, you see that it takes truly risible details, like an actual clown in attendance, to move the outrage dial in Washington.

I mean no disrespect to anyone else’s outrage about the sushi bar, the mind reader, the commemorative coins or the professional photographer to document it all. Feel free to remain outraged over those details. What’s truly outrageous, however, or at least depressing, is that in scandals like this, too often we get all the maddening details but none of the satisfying consequences.

In the case of this scandal at the General Services Administration, heads actually rolled. Your run-of-the-mill boondoggle, of which there are hundreds in government, doesn’t get anyone fired. It is normally done in plain sight: Photographs of boondoggles and junkets decorate the walls of many a bureaucrat’s office.

It’s almost enough to make you wonder whether government buildings have meeting rooms or coffee carts. Consider these conferences, every bit as expensive as the GSA’s, highlighted by Bloomberg.

In 2008, after there were rumblings about a crackdown on jaunts, the Drug Enforcement Administration hauled its employees to Istanbul — would Sin City have sent the wrong signal? — for $1.18 million. For two coffee breaks, the charge was $104 per person. That makes the now-infamous $16 muffin for a conference in Washington seem like a bargain — after all, as organizers later pointed out, that amount included coffee, tea, juice, fruit and even pastries.

Back in the U.S., the Justice Department decided that a single-day conference on sex offenders could only be done justice in Palm Springs, California, at a cost of $90,201 — or $626 per person…

No party owns this problem, although Republicans traditionally make more of a fuss about waste, fraud and abuse. Of eight particularly wasteful Justice Department conferences…four happened under President George W. Bush and four under Barack Obama. It’s a wonder politicians — particularly the Tea Party members who came in on a platform of ending out-of-control spending — aren’t tripping over themselves going after this low-hanging fruit.

…At the same time, a campaign like this would have to deal with the congressional aphorism “No headlines, no hearings”: The press is inured to this kind of stuff unless it is truly shocking, like an $823,000 trip to Las Vegas with a clown.

The other excuse for not doing anything is that chasing waste, fraud and abuse is a small-bore diversion, since it’s such a tiny fraction of the budget. Republicans use the same argument about raising tax revenue from the top 10 percent.

It is undeniable that neither combatting waste nor raising taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent will do very much to reduce the deficit. So nothing is done. How is nothing working for you?

The Republican Party decided that the election of Barack Obama signaled a radical change in the American electorate that must be reversed by any means necessary. The tactic they chose was to take the structural inaction of a Congress ruled by obedience to corporate lobbyists – and turn it into elastic plastastic goo. A force field that could trip a Percheron. An agenda immobilized by mastic lies and the ideology of Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan and Grover Norquist.

The goal has been achieved. Congress achieves less than nothing. Cowardly Democrats have allowed themselves to be tarred with the same brush of useless invisible paint as Republicans. Agencies relying on leadership get to choose between PT Barnum and the Wizard of Oz in Congress.

Yes, Margaret Carlson is a gas. How she maintains her sense of humor dealing with the ideological sluggos that infest American politics is beyond me.

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