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

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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.


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Former special counsel to President Clinton and acclaimed expert in the field of crisis management, Lanny Davis joined The Costa Report to discuss the effect a $20 trillion deficit will have on future generations of Americans and offer advice to the next president. According to Davis, in spite of inheriting a $300 billion deficit and nationwide recession, President Clinton left office with a budget surplus.

Despite receiving criticism from both sides of the aisle at the time, Clinton pressured Congress to reduce spending while raising taxes. It was a one-two punch.

“Bill Clinton turned out to be right about the effect of raising taxes in 1992,” Davis said. “It helped the country, and I look at that history as verifying that premise.”

Davis believes Clinton’s approach will work again, but this will require the next president to raise taxes. When asked whether higher taxes will discourage investment, Davis stated that even if this is shown to be the case, taxes must still be raised “because in the long term, if we go bankrupt, the incentives or disincentives to investment don’t matter — it’s bad for the country.”

When the host of The Costa Report asked Davis whether raising the capital gains tax is the equivalent of punishing success, Davis didn’t disagree.

“Oh, it certainly feels that way to people who are successful, but this is one of those arguments that sounds right until you think it through,” he responded. “In 1935, when Franklin Roosevelt said, ‘I want young people to pay taxes to support old people,’ the young people said, ‘Why should I do that? I’m not going to pay for somebody else to be able to retire and not work.'”

Davis noted that Social Security was passed despite the opposition of most conservative Republicans, and said it’s a discussion Americans have had many times before — whenever they’ve been subjected to a tax increase.

“When the progressive income tax was introduced into our vocabulary, it meant that people earning more money would pay more taxes than people earning less. That debate meant taxing success vs. taxing lack of success,” he said. “Yes, to some degree you’re penalizing people who are successful, but that’s our social contract. That’s what’s made America great. I happen to be in the upper tier of people whose taxes will be raised, and I agree to pay more if part of that is going to be dedicated to reducing our debt.”

The blame for a national debt that continues to soar shouldn’t land on our current president, Davis said, but on the shoulders of Democrats who continue to spend as if using credit cards isn’t a moral issue.

“I have two older children and six grandchildren, and then I started all over again and have a 17-year-old and a 10-year-old,” he said. “That makes me wonder if it’s fair for me to go around the world using my credit card, using first-class airfare, first-class dinners and hotels, having a great time, then coming home and dumping all of my receipts on my son’s bed.”

To hear the full interview with Lanny Davis visit www.rebeccacosta.com

Wounded Warriors Project: Call to Congress to Extend VA’s TBI Assisted Living Pilot Program on The American Heroes Network

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Wounded Warriors Project: Call to Congress to Extend VA’s TBI Assisted Living Pilot Program on The American Heroes Network


Congressional Inaction Threatens Program for Brain-Damaged Vets. Tune in for the Live Broadcast Show on The American Heroes Network for their new episode “Wounded Warriors Project : Call to Congress to Extend VA’s TBI Assisted Living Pilot Program” Tuesday July 22nd 8am Pacific Time.

WASHINGTON-The Department of Veterans Affairs has begun ousting dozens of brain-damaged veterans from special therapeutic group homes, setting off a scramble for housing and care.

In recent weeks, VA case workers have warned 53 veterans they’ll have to leave the privately run homes by Sept. 15, according to the agency. Ten have already been discharged from the care facilities and sent to nursing homes, state veterans homes or to live with family members. Dozens of other veterans are now in a state of limbo about whether they’ll be able to remain in the rehab facilities for more than a few months.

The VA says it has no choice but to discharge the residents. Despite pressure from veterans, their families and service organizations, Congress hasn’t extended the legal authority for the rehabilitation program, which expires Oct. 6.
“The failure to extend this successful pilot [program] would close a door to recently injured individuals who need these services and risk having to transfer wounded veterans to more costly and inappropriate environments of care,” the Wounded Warrior Project, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and 11 other veterans groups wrote to lawmakers in a joint letter this month.

Lawmakers from both parties say they support renewing the program. The five-year pilot was designed to test whether veterans with traumatic brain injuries-the kinds of wound that became a signature of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts-improve faster with intensive therapy in a community-based home than at a hospital or rest home.

“It’s shortsighted to let it expire, leaving veterans out in the cold with no similar options,” Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said in a written statement. Rep. Bill Cassidy (R., La.), who has sponsored a bill renewing the program, said “I’m optimistic we’ll pass it on the House side.”

Such measures have been introduced in both chambers, but with Congress deadlocked on a variety of issues, none haven’t made it into law. VA officials say they can’t wait until the last minute to begin discharging patients.

The group-home program featured in a Feb. 20 front-page article in The Wall Street Journal focused on the life of former Marine Cpl. Justin Bunce, who suffered brain damage in a blast in Iraq in 2004 and later lost further brain function in a car accident. Cpl. Bunce lives in a VA-funded group home in Germantown, Md., run by NeuroRestorative, a unit of the Mentor Network, a Boston-based health-care and human-services company.

NeuroRestorative expects that 30 of the 54 veterans in its facilities in 14 states will have to move out within the next two months.
For the moment, the VA isn’t discharging the 50 Iraq and Afghanistan vets now living in the group homes, including Mr. Bunce. The agency is using authority under a separate law to continue funding for the treatment for brain-injured veterans of the post-Sept. 11 wars. Senior VA officials are debating how long that reprieve can last. “We’re awaiting the decision as to a way forward for these particular vets,” said Sharon Benedict, the program’s manager at the VA.

The brain-injury rehabilitation facilities resemble a home or apartment complex only with the addition of full-time attendants and a rigorous schedule of speech, physical, cognitive and occupational therapies. Residents have trainers to help them relearn lost life skills, such as shopping, eating in public and social interaction. They receive medical treatment at local VA medical centers.
“I’m doing great, and they’re going to yank it from me,” said Don Rohm, who has been told he must leave one such VA-funded residence in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. “God only knows what’s going to happen.”

Mr. Rohm weeps when he talks about facing life outside of the assisted-living facility. “It’s only a matter of time before I end up in jail or dead,” he said. Mr. Rohm, 53 years old, suffered brain damage when he was pushed down a marble staircase while stationed with the Army in Germany in 1981. In 1992, while working as a National Guard firefighter, he was hit in the chin by a heavy fire-hose nozzle. A fall from a ladder in 1995 and a car accident four years later-caused by seizures related to his brain injuries, according to his caregivers-worsened his condition.  His injuries cost him his ability to perform basic arithmetic. At the VA-funded facility, he is working on his nine-times multiplication tables.

Congress created the trial program seeking more effective ways to rehabilitate veterans who suffered intractable brain injuries. Among the veterans living in the Germantown home are a pilot left paralyzed and barely able to speak by a helicopter crash in Afghanistan; a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who survived a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head; and a National Guardsman who suffered several close calls in mortar attacks in Iraq.

The VA has yet to complete a full assessment of the program’s effectiveness, but says anecdotal evidence has been promising. “All indications are that the satisfaction is high among the veterans with the services they’re receiving, and they seem to be making gains,” said Ms. Benedict.


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