Skip to comments.You've Got the Power
Posted on 10/26/2006 8:22:53 AM PDT by Bloody Sam Roberts
Our democracy is in a dangerous state. Healthy competition between Republicans and Democrats has descended into bitter tribalism as ideology and partisanship rule the day. Congress, the linchpin of our democracy, is now the broken branch of government.
Just consider some of the ways that our system of government is under siege:
A Day's Work for a Week's Pay
If you're like most Americans, you're probably on the job at least 40 hours a week. But not if you're a U.S. Senator or Representative. This year, Congress will be in session fewer than 100 days out of 365 -- a modern-day record for inaction. A typical workweek has them arriving late afternoon on Tuesday and departing midday on Thursday. During the day and a half they spend in Washington, activity in the House and Senate chambers is frenetic and abbreviated. At every opportunity, legislators leave the Capitol grounds to go "off site" -- to party headquarters or rented town houses -- in order to take care of more urgent business: raising money for their re-election and their team. On average, it cost over $1 million to win a House seat in 2004, and more than $7 million to get elected to the Senate -- price tags that have turned members into fund-raisers who constantly work the phones. There is precious little time for legislating, which happens to be the main job we're paying them to do.
In fact, rather than steep themselves in issues, members just assemble to ratify decisions made by someone else (often in the White House or a party leadership office with a handful of members, staff and lobbyists present), usually to advance a partisan and ideological agenda. Bills are often drafted by special interests (the 2005 Bankruptcy bill, for instance, has the fingerprints of credit-industry lobbyists all over it) and then passed with no hearings or serious debate. Those hard-working fund-raisers just cannot break away for time-consuming stuff -- like the people's business.
Wood utilization research: $6.4 million. The International Fund for Ireland: $13.5 million. The Water-free Urinal Conservation Initiative: $1 million. This past year, like every year, the appropriations process was hijacked by legislators who slip "earmarks" into bills: individual projects for specific districts, states or companies. While some of this spending is beneficial, plenty of it clearly wastes taxpayer money -- and virtually none of the projects are weighed against the nation's real priorities. The conservative watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, which reported the examples above, recently noted, "Over the past ten years, pork-barrel spending has increased exponentially, from 1,430 projects totaling $10 billion in 1995 to 10,656 projects totaling $22.9 billion in 2004."
Not many decades ago, appropriators avoided earmarks, knowing they'd lead to a kind of circus or bazaar, with rising pressure to add funds for each district or to use the earmark as a tool to reward friends and punish enemies. They also worried about the temptation to use earmarks to get campaign contributions or favors in return (all the more likely these days, since lawmakers are always fund-raising). Former Rep. Duke Cunningham was convicted one year ago of using his position on an appropriations committee to steer millions of dollars to defense contractors in exchange for bribes that included cash, a Rolls-Royce, Oriental rugs and the free use of a yacht.
Earmarks skyrocketed beginning in 1994, after the Republicans took over the House and Senate. Two years earlier, there were a total of 892 earmarks, costing $2.6 billion. By 2005, Congress stuffed a staggering 13,997 into appropriations bills at a price tag of $27.3 billion. While pork spending is nothing new, today's pig is so big it could win a prize at the state fair.
We've reached a point where scarce funds are seriously misallocated and important programs are getting less funding so that picayune projects can prevail. Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund wrote that between 2000 and 2005, the Army Corps of Engineers spent nearly $2 billion in Louisiana -- but less than four percent went to protecting levees. "Over a third of the money went to building a new lock on an underused canal," Fund reported. The sheer scope of earmarks in the past few years is a sharp break with tradition; that it occurred on the watch of nominal fiscal conservatives has left many real fiscal conservatives, like Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, boiling. As Flake wrote recently in The New York Times: "Earmarking has become the currency of corruption in Congress."
Triumph of the Extremes
Spending hours away from the job and misspending federal tax dollars is bad enough. But what's really crippling our ability to legislate is the line in the sand that's been drawn by the ideologues -- a line that too few are willing to cross. The Democrats are dominated by ardent liberals, the Republicans by committed conservatives. The moderate center has collapsed.
The handful of members whose instincts are centrist face enormous pressure to support the party position, even when it runs wholly counter to their own. And that push for partisan unity makes it hard to deal with difficult issues that require compromise, whether it's immigration or health care or Social Security. In the 1960s, Republican and Democratic moderates were major forces in both the House and Senate. A bipartisan coalition was essential for overcoming conservative opposition to Senate passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Now that compromise is seen as a sign of weakness, do the critical issues of our day have a prayer of being resolved? Or even seriously addressed?
What We Can Do
More than anything, a politician wants to secure your vote -- so use that leverage. Contact the candidate's staff and make it clear your vote will go to someone who's serious about reform. A good test might be their openness to these ideas:
But we might weaken the influence of ideologues by getting more people, who are likely to be centrists, out to vote. Candidates would have to appeal to all these "new" voters in the middle. In Australia, they do something we could try: mandatory voting. Australians who don't turn up at the polls can write a letter of explanation or pay a fine of roughly $15. The result is that 95 percent of the citizens vote -- and the high turnout means a real dialogue in the political center.
Of course, Americans don't like mandatory anything. So we could also try major incentives to get people to the polls, from weekend voting to an experiment (discussed in Arizona) of holding a million-dollar lottery where the tickets are voting receipts.
Many other reforms could help restore integrity and order on Capitol Hill. But the bottom line is that reforms alone can't make Congress functional. Voters have to take action. By turning out on Election Day -- every Election Day -- we can reduce the impact of the extremes and express outrage when Congress fails in its duties to the public. Voter apathy is no longer an option. The stakes are too high.
Personally, I am penning letters today and I intend to contact the Citizens Against Government Waste organization to get more info and see if there is something I can contribute other than tax monies.
Though, Constitutionally speaking...I have a problem with the whole 'mandatory voting' idea.
Another simplistic "a pox on both their houses" moderate bit of nonsense. If they were intellectually honest they would be pointing to the REAL source of the bitter divide in Modern American politics. The hyper partisan hysteria of the Democrat Noise Machine and the insanely divisive hate speech rhetoric that passes as "Campaigning" by Democrats. It was not Republicans who tried to scream down and bully Jean Schmidt on the floor of the US House during the Iraq debate.. It was Harold Ford and the thugs pretending to be "progressive" Congress critters
I am old enough to remember when Reader's Digest wasn't a shill for the democrats.
This was touched on briefly at the head of the article but I'm sure that would constitute a whole other article.
"...Narrowing the partisan divide is a tougher problem. Hard-core activists have an outsized influence in the primaries, and politicians court them by emphasizing "wedge" issues like same-sex marriage or flag burning, further inflaming voters..."
Gee. You think that perhaps calling someone a politically minded bloodthirsty war profiteer (as the libs refer to Bush, Cheney and the entire Republican Party) has had any divisive effect that might be HUNDREDS of times more powerful than stupid "wedge issue" effects?
Though it has changed over the years (what hasn't?)...I read it each month...I don't find it to be as you describe.
I'd be interested in having you point to specific articles to illustrate.
Thought you might be interested ping.
I agree. Making it financially advantageous to vote by giving people money only is going to work one way, and that is to strengthen Democrat voting patterns.
It is a stupid, idiotic government handout idea. If people cannot be motivated to get off of their stupid, fat lazy asses and cast a ballot without having a dollar bill dangled in their face, they DO NOT DESERVE TO VOTE, PERIOD.
Sheesh. I know this article is not your opinion, so this irritation is not at you, which I hope you can see.
No explanation necessary. I mean...I know I didn't write the thing. Just thought it would make good fodder for FR discussion.
Thanks...by the way, that is one interesting screen name you have chosen there...:)
Gladly. RD once was an advocate for conservatives and conservative ideas. Pretty much Reagan Agenda. Over the years, as the kids of the Wallaces took over, the magazine has shifted. Not blatantly leftist, more subtle. But that includes favorable write-ups on America-haters, and leading Dems (I don't collect old copies, so I cannot cite specific issues).
Anyway, that's my take. And I have been reading RD for maybe 40 years.
"When you eliminate the third, fifth, and sixth letters. Then it's Red's Digest, comrade."
Fed up with partisan battles and crooked deals in Washington? Then get off your duff on Election Day.
If people would get off their duffs during the primaries, then we could have solid conservative candidates.
If people get off their duffs and hold to account the lawmakers to prosecute every and ALL case of election fraud and voter fraud, we would have a better nation.
Thanks. I am...the Dread Pirate Roberts.
It's all explained...Here.
Hmm. Interesting. I will agree that at times there is a subtle "touchy/feely" slightly Left undertone to some of the writing which can be attributed to whomever the particular contributor happens to be.
But I find the overall flavor is supportive of our military forces, family values and conservative issues.
Just my take.
Ping! Thought you'd like this one.
Thanks honey! It was very interesting!
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