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Congress Should Not Be a Part-Time Job by Rebecca Costa

Posted by Editor on
Capitol Building, Washington, USA

Capitol Building, Washington, USA

What if the next President of the United States decided not to move to the nation’s capital? After the election, they announced plans to fly into Washington on Monday — keep office hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays — and return home on Friday. What if they were comfortable sleeping on the sofa in the Oval Office, showering at the gym, and eating in the staff cafeteria when they were in town?

What? You don’t like the sound of that?

Welcome to the United States Congress.

According to former Senate Majority Leaders, Tom Daschle (D) and Trent Lott (R), members of Congress presently work together three days a week, or less. So, no one knows any one any more. There’s no camaraderie, no communication, no socializing, no nothing. Given this environment, its no wonder government leaders can’t find common ground. Compromise takes time, cooperation, give and take. It’s a lot like a marriage — and we all know what the stats on
long distance relationships look like.

So how bad is it?

The latest stats reveal that 78 percent of those elected to Congress now spend 40 out of 52 weekends a year at home. Tim Roemer, former representative from Indiana claims that Congressional “commuting” is taking a serious toll: “Despite a $174,000 salary, members of Congress do the job we elected them to do only ‘part time.’ The rest of the time, they are chasing money for their re-election campaigns.” Which means time away from the nation’s capital, and business. The days when leaders bonded over children’s birthday parties, a weekend neighborhood barbeque, and working side by side into the night to pass legislation, are all long gone. In fact, so many Representatives and Senators now commute that no voting is scheduled on Mondays and Fridays.

With Congress spending less than a third of the year working together, the partisan divide has become untenable. It’s become such a serious issue that veterans like Daschle and Lott felt compelled to come together to author Crisis Point: Why We Must — And How We Can — Overcome Our Broken Politics In Washington And Across America. According to the career statesmen, the key to working together is spending time together. Though Daschle and Lott were the top leaders of their respective parties, they found a way to pass three balanced budgets and enact historic reforms. Speaking out on this topic, Daschle explained the role living and working in Washington D.C. played in facilitating compromise, “You have to know people in order to work with them. And in order to work with them you have to be able to communicate with them. None of that happens today. They (elected officials) are going to be in Congress 109 days this year out of 365. That doesn’t make sense . . .”

But it turns out, according to the law, it does make sense. The U.S. Constitutionrequires members of Congress to maintain residency in their home state. No Congressperson can serve who “shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.” Which means, once elected, an official can’t just up and move to Washington — they’re committed to keep one foot in both places.

And there’s a second reason elected officials feel pressure to spend time in their home state: the skyrocketing costs of re-election. Since 1986, campaign budgets have jumped 62 percent for the Senate, and 344 percent for Representatives. So fundraising and maintaining voter support back home is now an around the clock job. Never mind the pressure to raise money for their respective parties.

Senator Tom Harkin, the longest serving Democrat in Iowa echoes Daschle and Lott’s concerns:

“It’s not as much fun in that we’re so consumed with other things. Here’s what I mean — we used to have a Senate Dining Room that was only for senators. We’d go down there and sit around there, and Joe Biden and Fritz Hollings and Dale Bumpers and Ted Stevens and Strom Thurmond and a bunch of us — Democrats and Republicans. We’d have lunch and joke and tell stories, a great camaraderie. That dining room doesn’t exist any longer because people quit going there. Why did they quit going? Well, we’re not there on Monday, and we’re not there on Friday. Tuesday we have our party caucuses. That leaves Wednesday and Thursday — and guess what people are doing then? They’re out raising money. The time is so consumed with raising money now… that you don’t have the time for the kind of personal relationships that so many of us built up over time.”

But according to Eric Wang, attorney and senior fellow at the Center for Competitive Politics, the real reason politicians spend so much of their time securing campaign donations is because contribution limits have not been adjusted for inflation since 1974. “(In 1974) an individual could give $1,000 per election to a candidate, and a Political Action Committee (PAC) could give $5,000 per election to a candidate and $15,000 per year to a party committee. Had those limits been properly adjusted for inflation, those limits today would be $4,814, $24,070 and $72,211, respectively.” But the cap today is much lower: $2,700, $5,000 and $15,000. So, to make up the difference “candidates spend more time chasing after a greater number of contributors for their own campaigns and their party committees.” Other research appears to buttress Wang’s idea that the unintended consequence of smaller campaign contributions is that politicians have to devote more time to fundraising. Studies from the Center for Competitive Politics reveal that 7 out of 17 states with high or no limits on campaign donations scored “above average” for quality of governance. Yet, out of 16 states that have strict contribution limits, only 3 scored “above average.”

So, working backwards, raising the limits of campaign contributions would go a long way toward freeing up elected official’s time.

Second, voters need to elect Congressional candidates who are willing to abide by the same standards we have for the Oval Office. They must commit to move to the nation’s capital and work together, on behalf of the American people, five days a week. No more part-time governance, sleeping on the couches in their offices and showering at the gym. Members of the House and Senate receive a $1.2 million annual expense allowance, as well as free flights between their home and Washington D.C. — all paid for by taxpayers. So it’s fair to demand they use this allowance to maintain a residence where they work.

Third, Congress needs to schedule important votes on Monday and Friday. Daschle observes, “Why not have votes on Fridays and Mondays and keep people in the legislative body for the entire week?” If you want people to stick around, give them a reason to.

Lastly, when it comes to chasing campaign money, Daschle suggests, “We should not allow members of Congress to raise money while we’re in session. That way they wouldn’t have to be racing all over the country on weekends. The American people want to see Congress get things done first of all. They’d like to see them working . . .they want to see them end this incredible money race.” Longtime Congressman, Lee Hamilton, concurs, “They (members of Congress) don’t get to know each other. When they do interact, they are often in confrontational settings. Legislation is a very complex process. It takes a lot of time, a lot of give and take, and you cannot force it.”

But what we can force is a five day work week and a commitment to live in Washington D.C. We wouldn’t stand for a part-time President and there is no reason for Americans to accept less from Congress.


Posted by Editor on

As we near the end of the primary season and the reality of a national contest sets in, the question on everyone’s mind is whether voters will come together to support their party’s nominee. Romney and other GOP leaders have publicly stated they will not support frontrunner Donald Trump. On the other hand, polls show that many Bernie Sanders supporters would rather sit the election out than cast their vote for Clinton.  In short, both leading contenders face serious obstacles when it comes to unifying their parties, let alone the country.

First, Trump.

Though he won three states on Super Tuesday and has secured roughly half the delegates needed to win the GOP nomination, last week party leaders secretly gathered to block Trump from the general election. Politico obtained a copy of an invitation sent to Republican leaders which read, “Please join other conservative leaders to strategize how to defeat Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, and if he is the Republican nominee for President, to offer a true conservative candidate in the general election.” According to political insider, Roger Stone, the Republican Party has, “cooked up a strategy…to steal delegates from Trump so that he’ll fall below 1,237 on the first ballot, and then, before the second ballot, to present one of their (own) group … as the Savior of the Grand Old Party.”

Given opposition from the most powerful members of his party, can Trump bring the GOP together?  He can if he follows these 3 simple steps:

For openers, make certain his competitors join forces with him.  Though Trump is widely known for his deal-making skills, pundits were completely caught off guard when Chris Christie and Ben Carson aligned with the frontrunner.  If he’s successful at negotiating similar support from Rubio, Kasich, and later, Cruz, the GOP starts to come together right then and there.

Second, redefine who the GOP voter really is.  This week on The Costa Report, cofounder and Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes, explained how the demographics of the GOP is changing. “A major reason for Trump’s emergence as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination is his appeal to these overlooked (working class) voters. While the RNC was concentrating on appealing to its five “demographic partners,” (Hispanics, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, African Americans, women, and youth) Trump was studying Rick Santorum’s book Blue Collar Conservatives.”  Even GOP leaders opposed to Trump can’t deny the fact that he’s engaged a previously untapped voter – recruiting record numbers of discontented, frustrated working class Americans to vote in the primaries.  Can the GOP afford to alienate the new recruits by circumventing their newfound hero?  Doubtful.

Lastly, to unify his party Trump will have to soften his language on controversial topics, and grow vocal on issues on which ALL voters agree – issues such as lowering taxes and abolishing the IRS.  Last year the Pew Research Centerfound that 59 percent of Americans feel “there is so much wrong with the federal tax system that Congress should completely change it.” Any candidate who appeals to 59 percent of voters is likely to experience success similar to Ronald Reagan, whose entire presidential campaign was based on tax cuts.

Next up, Clinton.

Whereas Clinton has the support of the Democratic establishment, she hasn’t been pulling the kind of primary numbers needed to win a national election.  Not like Trump or Sanders. What’s more, 95 percent of all Democratic voters say they don’t want Sanders to throw in the towel and support Clinton.  And over one third of Sanders’ supporters say they will not vote for Clinton if she is the nominee.

Recently, a number of online petitions have begun appearing on websites such as Change.org, where over 10,000 signatories have promised not to vote for Hillary if she is the party’s choice.  Samantha-Jo Roth reported in theHuffington Post, that Sanders voters see Trump as a better option than Clinton because they want a non-establishment, Washington outsider. According to Calvin Priest, political organizer with Socialist Alternative, “If Bernie does not run all the way through November, the field will be left open to Trump to tap into the massive (Democratic) anger at the establishment. This can cause lasting damage, as many people who could have been won over to Bernie’s platform will be repelled by Clinton’s establishment politics, and won over instead to Trump’s right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-worker message.”

When it comes to unifying the Democratic Party, it looks as if Clinton has as rough a road ahead of her as her Republican counterpart.  So, what, if anything, can she do to pull her party together?

First, she needs Sanders to join her.  Sanders supporters are urging him to run as a third party or ‘write-in’ candidateshould he lose the nomination and a defection would deal a deathblow to Clinton’s chances.  While one third of Sanders supporters claim they will not vote for Clinton, that still leaves two thirds up for grabs. Two thirds that Clinton will need in a contest against Trump.

Second, Clinton must leverage the Democratic establishment to assert influence inside and outside the party.  That means securing endorsements from popular Democrats who have large followings – such as the current President of the United States.  The unanimous support of influential Democrats will go miles toward unifying the party.

Finally, Clinton must put distance between claims that she, and her husband, have been the victims of an “organized right wing conspiracy,” and that she has been unfairly scrutinized for her use of a private email server, her handling of Benghazi, and sizable speaking fees to financial institutions. To win Republican crossover voters, Independents, and those who are frustrated with “partisan politics as usual” and don’t want 4 more years of gridlock – Clinton will have to refrain from partisan rhetoric and prove herself capable of conciliation and compromise. Along these lines, she needs the endorsements of prominent Republicans and Independents with whom she has worked well with in the Senate and as Secretary of State. And similar to Trump, it would serve Clinton well to turn her attention to issues on which the vast majority of Americans agree, steering gently away from serving the special interests of specific demographic groups.

And there you have it.  Three tactics each of the Presidential frontrunners can deploy to bring unity to their parties, and the country at large.

Those concerned that the primary season has done irreparable damage to each party’s nominee’s ability to bring voters together can rest easy.  With more than seven months before we line up to cast our final decision – any doctor would tell you, that’s plenty of time for paper cuts and black eyes to heal.


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