Bring Congress Out of the 18th Century!
Thursday, February 23rd, 2012
New Orleans, Louisiana
A MAJOR SHAKE UP NEEDED IN CONGRESS!
The approval rate for members of Congress seems to be in free call. Few constitutients approve of the dysfunction taking place in the nation’s capitol. Just 10 years ago, Congress had an approval rating of 65%. But no more. The most recent Harris and CBS polls show approval rates dropping to an all time low of 9%. Like the guy sings in the Limbo Rock song, “How low can you go?”
Let me tell you just how bad it is. More Americans approve of polygamy than they do of Congress in Washington. At the height of the gulf oil spill, BP had a shockingly low 16% approval rating. Even Paris Hilton has a 15% approval rating. And would you believe that 11% of those surveyed are OK with America becoming Communist? Just about every low life trend or person you can think of does better than the folks you and I send up to Washington.
When these polls are taken, usually there’s a distinction between how voters view their own congressman compared to how they view Congress as a whole. But even that favorable local feeling is dropping. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed a strong majority of voters want to clean house, including their own congressman.
Apparently public criticism is falling on deaf ears, and we hear nothing but excuses from the Republic-can’ts and the Demo-don’ts. There are tough decisions to be made regarding entitlement programs and raising revenues that require urgent action, that are getting little more than a wink and a nod from Washington. So it comes as no surprise to most of us that the favorable support of Congress continues to plummet.
Lobbyists rule the roost. They are there from the new congressman’s first day in office, and the solictitation of campaign funds -- the mother’s milk of political survival -- starts from day one. In my home state of Louisiana, newly elected Congressman Jeff Landry was the Tea Party’s poster boy for opposing the Washington culture of bowing to special interests. On election night, he told his followers that it’s going to be a new day in Washington, and “we need to get our country back on the right track.” Three weeks later, Landry was in the heart of Washington at the posh Capitol Hill Club on the hunt for Washington campaign dollars. So Landry’s two months away from being sworn into office, and he’s already asking for money from K Street lobbyists and other Washington power brokers.
A visit with Landry doesn’t come cheap. The “meet and greet” with the new Louisiana 3rd District Congressman is priced at $5,000 for the “PAC Gold Level; $2,400 for the individual Gold Level; $2,500 for the PAC Silver Level, and $1,000” just to get in the door. All of a sudden, just weeks after getting elected, many new congressmen like Landry find that Washington changed miraculously from a “cesspool” when they were campaigning, into a “hot tub” once they got elected. This is not a personal knock at Landry so much as an example of how “business is done” in Washington.
How can the system dispense with the influence of lobbyists? One suggestion, that I think makes sense, is to bring our congressmen home. The idea was shared with me this weekend on my “Common sense” radio show. My guest was Tea Party founder Jenny Beth Martin from Atlanta who was named by Time Magazine as the 15th most influential world leader of 2010. Jenny Beth simply wants to get Congress “out of Washington and back to the people.” She proposes that we use the new technology of telecommunications to create a “virtual Congress.”
The lady makes good sense. She says: “That way, elected officials would spend more time in their communities. Constituents should be the ones with fulltime access to their members of Congress, and lobbyists should be the ones forced to stand with their hats in their hands in order to gain access.” She further makes the point that if millions of Americans can telecommute, why can’t members of Congress attend committee meetings by video conference? If I can regularly Skype my grandkids, why can’t my congressman add the big screen to his or her office, tune in meetings, the go back to handling problems of constituents right out of the home district?
During the time following the American Revolution, it was necessary for the original Congress to meet under one roof. But why should a twenty-first century legislature be constrained by eighteenth-century technology? Why should congressional members have to rush away from their constituencies back to Washington just to cast votes? They belong in close proximity with those who elected them, not at high priced cocktail parties in Washington at the behest of rich special interest promoters.
As it is now, we might catch a glimpse of our members of Congress when they are interviewed on television. How refreshing it would be to see your congressman at various school events, or run into him or her at your local coffee shop. As Jenny Beth told me: “Back in their districts most of the time, these congressmen will be surrounded by skeptical constituents, rather than fawning supplicants. And they’ll continually have to justify any political decision they make that’s contrary to the will of the voters.”
There are a number of other proposals out there to make Congress more responsive to those who elected them. Texas Governor Rick Perry, during his short run for president, suggested a part time Congress. Term limits is an idea that continues to have high favorable support. Others are saying that congressional districts have grown too large, and more members of Congress should be added. All these ideas have merit.
But there’s nothing more important than reestablishing a closer relationship between the congressman and the people he or she represents. In the old days, it was called “retail politics.” A handshake and face to face interaction. Let a voter blow off steam, or bring up what could be a good idea.
There certainly is no patent for good “Common sense” emanating from Washington these days. So come back home, Congressman, and listen and learn from those who elected you. And maybe, just maybe, your popularity will rise above being a polygamist.
Members of Congress should be compelled to wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers, so we could identify their corporate sponsors. ~Caroline Baum
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the country. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.