web analytics

Tag Archive | "congress"

Main Street


Roger on Main StreetGet smart
Public pressure on Washington finally did the trick. Members of Congress faced reality. In other words, they got nervous that they wouldn’t be re-elected next time if they didn’t shape up and pass the debt bill. So, the immediate crisis is put to rest, although a true resolution has been put off.

Our government still spends more than its income. Much of it consists of unavoidable obligation—interest on government bonds and other debt, for example. But our government’s optional spending calls for close inspection. We the people must decide what we really want, and elect accordingly. Surely we’re able to see past sleazy political rhetoric. Our choices may involve the dread taxation for somebody, but there are governmental programs that are worth it. Let’s get smart.

Not so smart
Tired of having to balance his wife Cindy’s checkbook, Mike made a deal with her: he would look at it, but only after she had spent a few hours trying to wrestle it into shape.

The following night, after spending hours poring over stubs and figures, Cindy said proudly, “I’ve done it! I made it balance!”

Impressed, Mike came over to take a look. “Let’s see—mortgage $550.00, electricity $70.50, phone, $35.00.” His brow wrinkled as he read the last entry. “It says here, ESP $615. What the heck is that?”

“Oh, that,” she said. “It means, Error Some Place.”

That smarts
His wife has been missing a week now. Police told him to prepare for the worst. So he’s gone to the thrift shop to get all her clothes back.

Smart comeback
A wife says to her husband: You’re always pushing me around and talking behind my back.” He says, “What do you expect? You’re in a wheel chair.”

Smart aleck
For three days all I heard from my Texas visitor was stuff like, in Texas we have the best this, the largest that, the fastest something else, etc. It became annoying.

Being from Niagara Falls, I thought I could outdo him by showing him the Mighty Niagara, knowing nothing in Texas could compare to this wonder.

While standing at the brink watching millions of gallons of water rushing over, I noticed the look of awe in his eyes. It was then I asked him, “Do you have anything like this in Texas?”

He waited a moment before he answered: “No, but we have a plumber who could fix it.”

Posted in Roger on Main St.Comments Off


Roger on Main StreetDeadline

The federal government has borrowed all the money Congress has allowed. If we don’t raise the debt limit, we can’t pay our bills and down goes America’s credit rating. Sounds like my VISA account.
The federal debt situation shouldn’t be a surprise. The U.S. started two wars “on the cuff.” The previous Congress didn’t even include those tens of $billions in the budget (so as not to bother our pretty little heads about it, I guess). But didn’t anybody think the bills might come due? Instead of raising tax money, we got the “Bush tax cuts,” the first time in history our country has gone to war while also cutting taxes. Ignoring the bills does not mean they go away. Every family knows this problem.

Drive-in service

The elderly priest, speaking to the younger one, said, “It was a good idea to replace the first four pews with plush bucket theater seats. It worked like a charm. The front of the church always fills first now.”
The young priest nodded, and the old priest continued, “And you told me adding a little more beat to the music would bring young people back to church, so I supported you when you brought in that rock ‘n roll gospel choir. Now our services are consistently packed to the balcony.”
“Thank you, Father. I’m pleased that you are open to the new ideas of youth.”
“All these ideas have been well and good,” said the elderly priest, “but I’m afraid you’ve gone too far with the drive-through confessional.”
“But, Father,” protested the younger one, “my confessions and the donations have nearly doubled since I started that!”
“Yes,” said the elderly priest, “and I appreciate that. But the flashing neon sign, ‘Toot ’n Tell or Go to Hell’ cannot stay on the church roof.’”

Too much work

A friend claims his son is so lazy he won’t empty the trash in the computer bin.

Call 911

Joe sets up his friend Mike on a blind date with a young lady-friend of his. But Mike’s a little worried about going out with someone he’s never seen before. “What do I do if she’s really unattractive?” he asks. “I’ll be stuck with her all night.”
“Don’t worry,” Joe says. “Just go up to her door and meet her first. If you like what you see, then everything goes as planned. If you don’t, just shout ‘Aaaaaauuuggghhh!’ and fake an asthma attack.”
So that night, Mike knocks at the girl’s door and when she comes out he is awe-struck at how attractive and sexy she is. He’s about to speak when the girl suddenly shouts: “Aaaaaauuuggghhh!”

Makes sense

“Mary,” asks Dawn thoughtfully one day, “what would you do if you caught your husband with another woman?”
“Another woman with my husband?” Mary thinks it over. “Let’s see; I’d break her cane, shoot her guide dog, and call a cab to take her back to the institution she escaped from.”

Posted in Roger on Main St.Comments Off

Can we make representative democracy better?


By Lee H. Hamilton

If you believe in representative democracy, as I do, this has been a dispiriting time. At a crucial moment for our nation’s economy, many Americans look at Congress and see posturing, not a serious effort to create jobs or to get our fiscal house in order. They’ve responded with terrible approval ratings; the latest, from NBC and The Wall Street Journal, showed some three-quarters of Americans disapproving of the job Congress is doing.

These dismal numbers have become so commonplace that most people in Washington react with a shrug. But our form of representative democracy places Congress at its center, as the voice of the American people and the guardian of the democratic process; when it is met with such dissatisfaction, the response should not be indifference, but a determination to improve its standing. We may have the best form of government we know, but we must always strive to make it better.

The basic features of our system have served this nation admirably over more than two centuries, but they can be abused. Democracy stokes passions, naturally creating robust debate and sharp-elbowed political competition. But it also leads to excesses we should address.

For instance, our system is driven by a healthy competition between the parties. But members of Congress are too willing to focus on scoring political points, at the expense of searching for a remedy for our challenges. You see this in their slim legislative record at a time of enormous challenge, and in the countless positions in the administration that have gone unfilled; the opposition has blocked nominees and simply declared that at least for some positions it will not support anyone President Obama nominates.

Similarly, both the Founders and earlier generations of Congress developed procedures to ensure that runaway majorities could not trample on the rights and wishes of the minority. But it has become terribly easy, especially in the Senate, for a handful of legislators—or even just one recalcitrant lawmaker—to gum up the works on behalf of some pet cause.

Congress has taken up plenty of space on the news pages so far this year, but it can point to very little of significance that it has actually accomplished. Both sides in Congress seem all too ready to take endless votes on bills that have no chance of being enacted, but have been placed on the calendar for the sole purpose of requiring the opposition party to cast a difficult vote. This sort of game-playing is hardly new, but it comes at a cost: legislators have limited time and energy, and when both are taken up with trivialities and political shenanigans, it means that important work does not get done.

To his credit, the Speaker of the House has tried to limit inconsequential legislation—resolutions honoring this or that constituent—but politically tinged maneuvering still goes on. A common complaint in the congressional cloakrooms is to ask in frustration, “Why are we working on this trivial matter when we’re surrounded by so many serious challenges?”

In a representative democracy, of course, part of the point is for legislators to represent particular interests, especially the needs of their constituents. That is how the great diversity of this nation is given voice on Capitol Hill. But this can go too far. Too many members have adopted habits that might help their re-election chances, but do little to solve problems.

They pander to powerful people or groups; take their marching orders from the poll of the day, not their own intellectual compass; listen to their biggest contributors, not to the broad cross-section of their districts; and engage too often in short-term thinking, looking to the instant gratification of the next election or even the next poll, rather than the country’s needs a decade out.

All these excesses of democracy contribute to Americans’ lack of faith in Congress and undermine our system of representative government. The ideal for members is to conduct themselves as politicians and legislators so as to reflect credit on the institution they serve, and earn the respect—if not always the approval—of their countrymen. The record at the moment suggests they are falling short.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Posted in Voices and ViewsComments Off

The Roots of Congress’s Unpopularity


By Lee Hamilton, The Center on Congress at Indiana University

I suppose it’s possible that Congress could enjoy even less popularity than it does at the moment, but it’s difficult to imagine. Recent public opinion polls show it plumbing depths that have rarely been seen before.
Certainly that’s true of a survey just conducted by the Center on Congress at Indiana University, which I direct. Every year, we measure national public opinion about Congress in an effort to gauge how relevant it is to Americans’ lives and whether they feel it’s living up to the Framers’ expectation that it serve as “the people’s branch” of the federal government. This year, a jaw-dropping 84 percent of those we surveyed said they disapprove of the job Congress is doing.
If this were all the survey had found, it would be bad enough. But Americans consistently grade Congress at a D or worse on such fundamental measures as whether it is dealing with key issues facing the country, keeping excessive partisanship in check, holding its members to high ethical standards, and controlling the influence of special interests.
Even worse, when asked, “What do you think is the main thing that influences what members of Congress do in office,” an abysmal 84 percent believe that either “personal interest” or “special interests” drive congressional action. Very few people, in other words, believe that members of Congress have the best interests of the country, or even of their constituents, at heart.
This may be why proposals like the “Congressional Reform Act of 2011,” a set of suggestions for stripping members of Congress of alleged perquisites, have enjoyed such popularity in online forums. Parts of the proposal are based on misleading or outdated information — contrary to the text circulating on the Web, members of Congress do pay Social Security taxes, for instance; and their pensions are generous but not outlandish, averaging $36,732 a year for those who pay into the federal retirement fund that has existed since 1984.
Nonetheless, the perception that members enjoy benefits unavailable to ordinary Americans is widespread, and occasionally right. For instance, while members of Congress participate in a health-insurance program similar to other federal employees mainly for their families, they also have free or very modest cost access to care in the Capitol, including annual physical exams, and to superb outpatient care and other services at military hospitals like Bethesda Naval Hospital.
So congressional reform initiatives that take aim at legitimate issues ought to have a place at the table; especially in tough times, it’s important for Congress not to appear to be getting special breaks at the taxpayer’s expense.
Still, in the end these fixes are not the most important issue.
The more fundamental questions have to do with how Congress behaves. Ordinary citizens believe that members of Congress pay close attention to special interests because, in fact, they do. There’s a widespread belief that Capitol Hill protects its own when it comes to ethical transgressions because there has been far too great a reluctance to pursue misbehavior aggressively.
People are tired of partisan gamesmanship because, quite simply, there’s been too much of it. Voters feel ignored—or at least unheard—because for all the efforts members of Congress put into communicating with their constituents, so much of their time is spent with donors, party activists, and like-minded supporters that the multitude of their constituents’ concerns can go unappreciated, and their legislative duties are neglected.
There are remedies for all of these issues, from beefing up ethics enforcement, to strengthening lobby limits and disclosure laws, to recognizing that partisanship and the narrow political bases that feed it have created a true crisis of confidence in our representative system. Congress has it within its own power to reverse its dangerous fall in the public’s estimation.
But the American people, too, have a role to play. Looking at the shifts in congressional standing over a period of decades, a trio of political scientists — the late Robert Durr of Washington University, John Gilmour of William & Mary, and Christina Wolbrecht of Notre Dame—came to a startling conclusion a number of years ago: that Congress often suffers for doing what it’s supposed to do. “As the representatives of a diverse and heterogeneous country, members seldom find themselves in agreement,” they wrote. “To the public, then, the very activities which characterize Congress and the legislative process—deliberation, debate, and decision making—cause it to appear quarrelsome, unproductive, and controversial, and thus diminish it in the public eye.”
The poll findings by the Center on Congress and others clearly ought to alarm congressional leaders and encourage them to look deeply at their institution’s behavior. But they also should serve as a spur to ordinary citizens not to write Congress off, but to seek to understand it better, take aim at the fundamental problems, and avoid deriding Congress for doing what it was set up to do: debate, deliberate, and make decisions for a diverse and often contentious nation.
Drawing upon his 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Lee Hamilton writes a bi-weekly column on Congress — sometimes explaining why Congress works the way it does or explaining its impact, other times suggesting ways Congress could be improved or reformed.

Posted in Voices and ViewsComments Off

advert

LOCAL Advertisers

The POST
Kent Theatre
Bryne Electrical

Get the Cedar Springs Post in your mailbox for only $35.00 a year!