In the interest of downsizing government, it might be appropriate to suggest going back to the days when Congress was only a part-time institution limited in the amount of mischief it could commit. Perhaps those newly elected to the House under the tea party banner could make that a goal as well as redefining the republic to fit a much earlier
Curtailing the lawmakers’ yearly activities to about six months would not only save billions of dollars, but also eliminate a lot of stress for average Americans who worry about what their elected representatives are about to do or not do next — such as threatening every five minutes to shut down the government completely or spending enormous amounts of their money on needless projects.
Not a good suggestion given the size and complexity of our democracy? That’s probably correct, but one can wish, right? The fact is that Congress is in many different ways a failed institution in dire need of reform. The basic chores assigned to it — raising revenue through taxation, adopting a budget, appropriating funds for myriad federal activities, declaring war — generally have not been accomplished for years. These activities have been lost in the partisan rancor and irresponsible behavior of those whose vision for the country reaches only to the next
Congress is a mass of contradictions, as are most legislatures — populated by men and women who promise one thing and do another and whose objectives are not dictated “by the people, for the people” but by the special interests for the special interests.
I realize that’s a harsh assessment, but it comes from decades of watching a steady erosion of elemental good government on Capitol Hill, hastened by a decline in the quality of those occupying both chambers. There is probably only one estate held in lower esteem — the fourth or, if you like, the press. The voters surely have gotten what they deserve, buying into empty promises and watching helplessly as the House controlled by the Republicans and the Senate by the Democrats can’t even agree to try to agree on much of anything — a condition resulting from the midterm elections when frustrated voters bought into claims that it would be easy just to turn the clock back to a simpler time.
Close down the government? Why not? Then perhaps we could all have at least one good night’s sleep. But what should we do about the needs of all those American men and women overseas trying to accomplish what looks impossible in the first place? And what would this do to the fragile economy? Does anyone have a sane answer? By the way, it costs more to shut it down than to keep it running.
These clowns must know how foolish they look to the rest of the world. Someone at the high end of Pennsylvania Avenue must understand that adopting one stopgap measure after another to keep the government running while they bicker over a permanent solution is the height of irresponsibility, that good statecraft requires compromise now and then.
So while it may not be practicable to set a limit on the time Congress meets annually, it is certainly a refreshing thought to have them out of town where their constituents could get at them more easily.
Dan K. Thomasson is a former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.