There’s a group of former members of Congress who now label the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate as dysfunctional institutions incapable of meeting the needs of our troubled nation.
The report by the Association of Former Members of Congress is available at https://www.usafmc.org/congressxroads It’s worth a look. But I have to say that a newspaper column I wrote seven-plus years ago had many of the same themes.
Real Relationships Hard to Come by in Washington
March 2, 2013
I was pleased last fall, charmed really, when newly-elected U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis said he would sleep in his Capitol Hill office when Congress is in session, and return to Central Illinois on weekends to spend time with his family and constituents.
He’s doing that now, but I’m not so sure it’s a good idea.
Decades ago, members of Congress generally had their families with them in Washington because frequent trips home were impractical, typically requiring at least a day or two in a car or train. Because they stayed there, lawmakers got to know their colleagues, even if they were from different political parties, and met their families, too. They built friendships, despite differences.
No more. Congressional schedules are kept light on Mondays and Fridays so our elected representatives can jet home on weekends.
Certain socialites once delighted in hosting parties where political combatants would relax over a meal and adult beverage, discover common interests, test ideas and construct compromises. Not today. Even if you could find enough members of Congress in town to have a decent weekend gathering, the level of dialogue would be greatly diminished because there’s a good chance any fresh idea, any hint of concession or shift in political winds would be tweeted from the dinner table, then instantly discussed, dissected and dissed on Fox News or MSNBC.
A roll call vote on the House floor used to take 45 minutes. Congressmen chatted with colleagues as they waited for their names to be called. Today, congressmen dash onto the floor, use electronic cards to cast their votes and are gone. No time for relationship-building.
That’s partly why we have sequestrations, fiscal cliffs and debt limit crises. If more of them stayed in Washington, elected representatives might be able to ease the bitter partisanship and overcome the political toxicity and dysfunction that put us where we are today — a Congress that’s good at describing our nation’s problems but poor at solving them.
Give Davis credit for trying to distance himself from the harsh partisanship that makes solutions so difficult to find. He’s among 41 congressmen who are part of a “No Labels” group willing to consider compromise. They wore orange pins on their lapels to make a statement at the State of the Union address. Davis, a Republican from Taylorville, purposefully sat next to a Democrat from the Illinois delegation, Dan Lipinski.
Of course, Davis has good reason to steer clear of anything that smacks of party over country. It’s called political self-preservation.
His 13th Congressional District, which stretches from Champaign to near St. Louis and includes part of McLean County, is evenly divided politically. Mitt Romney and Davis both won the district, but by about only 1,000 votes out of 294,000 cast. The Washington Post has declared Davis the nation’s eighth most vulnerable incumbent next year when all 435 seats in the U.S. House are up for election.
So Davis feels a need to be in his home district to shake hands, build name recognition and (oh yeah) raise money for a re-election effort that will start just six months from now.
It really would be good if he’d spend more time in Washington. But there is one problem. About the only people he’ll find there on weekends are reporters, staff members and lobbyists.