Why Congress never gets anything done.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hi. Ever wonder why Congress never gets anything done, never gets around to solving the really big problems? Well, my muse.. Yes, I have a muse. (What? You don’t?) As you can imagine, she’s very important to me, this particular muse. So I married her, lest she get away and a-muse someone else.

“So what do you think is wrong with Congress, honey?” I asked her recently, expecting a lengthy, intellectually sophisticated response worthy of her considerable intelligence.

“I think they’re all a bunch of yahoos,” she responded, without hesitation, cutting to the quick as muses sometimes do. Needless to say, it’s a belief she shares in common with many Americans.

While I appreciate her point of view, I don’t entirely agree. I suspect that most of our representatives are good, hard working people who are sincerely committed to the welfare of their constituents. It’s not so much that they’re yahoos, as it is that their corporate culture, as it were, is conducive to yahooing. I think their inability to accomplish anything meaningful is perfectly understandable. Not desirable or acceptable, and certainly no basis for reelecting them, but understandable nonetheless.

For one thing, there are way too many of them, 435 in the House, plus 100 more in the Senate – way too many to sit down at the local tavern to work out solutions to our economic, fiscal and social problems over beer and crab cake sliders.

Second, they’re always running for office, particularly in the House. Glad-handing their constituents and contributors is virtually a full-time job. (It doesn’t help that it costs a fortune to run for office. Maybe Congress can do something about that.) Imagine, for example, trying to get any real work done if you have to spend all your time kissing up to your employer. “Yes, Mr. Smith. ..Of course, Mr. Smith. I’ll have those reports done before I leave, if you’ll just stop talking to me long enough for me to do them.” That last part, after the comma, is what you were thinking, but didn’t say out loud, at least not if like getting paid. It’s the same thing for our elected officials. They are, after all, our employees and should be evaluated as such every time we cast our vote.

Third, the big problems we’re facing are hard and complicated, increasingly so. Thinking about them makes your brain hurt. Most Congressmen/women aren’t up to it. They’re not stupid. Far from it. It’s just that solutions to the problems we’re facing require business and technical acumen that most of our representatives lack. That’s my polite way of saying that they have no idea what they’re doing. They have neither the expertise or the experience to understand and solve our most complex problems. In their defense, they’re not supposed to.

The job of Congress is not to devise solutions, but to consider, write legislation and vote on them. Program development itself – and then implementation of what Congress approves – is what the Executive Branch is supposed to be doing for Congress, but can’t and doesn’t. And that’s because our current President is nothing more, nothing different than one of our representatives who ran for President and got elected. This is what happens when you elect someone based pretty much solely on his personal appeal as a politician, without regard to his experience or expertise.

The President is supposed to be the CEO of the Executive Branch of our government. Hands down, Mr. Romney comes closer to fitting that job description than President Obama, but I digress. My point is that the Constitutionally defined roles of our legislative and executive branches have become confused. We’ve come to expect Congress to do the work of the Executive Branch when it comes to problem solving, and that’s unfair.

Fourth, most people – Yes. Rumors to the contrary, our representatives are “people.” – are naturally selfish. Protecting their individual jobs and families instinctively takes precedent over the common good. Left well enough alone, without adequate leadership, it’s only natural that they will fail to congeal, to reach a productive consensus, that they will lack the unselfish sense of community that is essential to the solving of big problems.

Long story short, Congress has too many players, in over their heads, without adequate leadership and Executive Branch support. And they’re always running for office and busy raising the money they need to get reelected. Is it any wonder Congress doesn’t get anything done? I don’t think so and I feel a little bad about blaming our representatives for everything wrong with Washington. I might even go so far as to say that most of them are doing the best they can. I’d say that, maybe, but the fact is, I don’t care how hard they’re trying. What I care about is that they’re not succeeding, that they’re not even in the vicinity of success. It’s my family and my country, and we have everything on the line.

If I’m pressed to allocate blame, it’s President Obama’s fault for not being up to the task, for not using his administration to devise workable, affordable solutions for Congress to consider and approve. He needs to be replaced with someone who is more capable, better able to manage the Executive Branch. More importantly, it’s our fault for rewarding non-performing representatives and Presidents with reelection. Truman was wrong. The buck doesn’t stop on the President’s desk. It stops on yours and mine.

If your current Congressman/woman or Senator isn’t getting the job done, isn’t aggressively, effectively focused on the major issues of our time, he/she does not deserve to be reelected. Stop voting your party affiliation. Don’t reelect people because they’re nice or even competent. And stop worrying about lesser issues, however important they may be to you personally. You want Congress to think big, to act unselfishly on behalf of the common good regardless of their personal beliefs? Well then, as voters, we need to set that example.

Hold the incumbent responsible for the performance of our government while he or she was in office and give a fresh mandate to the challenger. Do that for a few consecutive elections, and watch what happens. Effort isn’t important. Effort isn’t going to help you keep your job or get one if you’re un- or under-employed. Only results count. Hold the incumbent responsible. If not him or her, who? By that standard, we’ll have a new House every two years, and a completely new Senate every six. Keep doing that until candidates get the message and get it right.


For more on this and other related issues, be sure to visit my political blog, www.NextContestant.us.


2 responses to “Why Congress never gets anything done.

  1. jungleintherumble

    Hey. Enjoyed your article! I think the people who would be great leaders/representatives generally don’t run for political office. Generally, egomaniacs and charismatic manipulators willing to be backed by lobbyists become political figures.

  2. Hi. No question about it, the process of running for high elective office is way to costly in all respects for most real people, which is not to say there aren’t some really good men and women out there willing to throw themselves into the fray. The good news is that unemployment is already too high and even “egomaniacs and charismatic manipulators,” as you put it, need to work somewhere.

    By way of agreeing with you, that many good people are turned off by the process, I like the state government model where the legislators are part-time employees — real people, taking time off from their regular jobs to legislate on behalf of their constituents in local communities where they spend most of their time.

    Thanks for your comment. Stop back again when you have time.


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