Worse Congress

Congress: A Lot Worse Than When I Was There in 2009


Leonard Zwelling

         Back in 2009, just after having returned from my year in Washington, DC serving on the staff of the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, I wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle outlining some of the things I thought might improve the work on Capitol Hill. One of the most important of these derived from the four Ps of government: policy, process, politics and personality in ascending order of importance. My point was that personal relationships between members of rival parties had severely broken down because members of Congress left town around noon on Thursday (returning Monday night) to return to their home states and districts to raise votes and money and never took the time to get to know each other as they had in the era prior to jet plane travel. The members didn’t work on the fourth P. I elaborated on all of this in my book Red Kool-Aid, Blue Kool-Aid and its successor Congressional Malpractice (available on amazon).

         Carl Hulse (attached from The NY Times of July 26) makes the same point these eleven years later only emphasizing that it has gotten worse than ever. Members of opposing parties don’t even talk to one another or if they do they do so by cursing under their breaths as Ted Yoho (R-FL) did to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) or even worse members of the same party try to drum a leader out of that party as House Republicans did to Liz Cheney (R-WY) for supporting Dr. Fauci. What’s going on here?

         Things are definitely worse than they were in 2009 when I was serving on Capitol Hill and they were awful then. Many was the meeting between the Democratic and Republican (the team I was on) staffs where I was shut up when trying to present what I thought was a rational position on health care that did not jive with the Republican Party line. I was in a room of thirty or so and the only doctor in the room, but was told to hush when trying to express an opinion about medicine. And this was just staff! There were no voting Senate members present. The fourth P is largely neglected if not outright denied as being important to the legislative process. President Trump has clearly made this worse as he speaks deridingly of his political opponents, but this behavior predates him by years. It’s not his fault that things have sunk to this low a level. He’s had plenty of help from Schumer and Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats.

         Now I do believe things would be better under a President Biden, but it will take a lot more than ousting Trump to fix what ails the United States Congress. So what can be done?

         First, term limits. Ten years for a member of the House and eighteen for a member of the Senate. After that it’s up or out.

         Second, rotating chairmanships of committees—no more than four years leading a House Committee or six in the Senate. No exceptions.

         Third, everyone has to show up five days a week. No excuses. They were elected to serve in Washington. Stay there.

         Fourth, federal funding of all campaigns and the end of political action committees. We have to get the money out of politics. I understand that it’s a First Amendment issue, but my goodness, it takes billions to run for president. That can’t be a good idea.

         Fifth, get rid of the filibuster in the Senate and let majority rule on all votes. Filibusters are not in the Constitution. They are a bad idea and jam up legislation that is needed.

         Sixth, tighten all conflict of interest rules and prevent any member of Congress from profiting based on the knowledge he or she has gained while serving the people of the United States. Yes, that’s not really enforced.

         Seventh, all briefings by the executive branch of members of Congress must be bi-partisan.  Everyone has to hear the same facts.

         Eight, it would be reasonable that the President of the United States and the Speaker of the House be on speaking terms. They are supposed to be adults. Is anyone up there an adult?

         Nine, when witnesses are called before Congress, each party of a given committee gets to call the same number of witnesses, not have the majority party dominate. These are supposed to be hearings, not lectures by the members. I am no fan of Bill Barr but the House Democrats wouldn’t let him answer their questions.

         Finally, stop lying. Exaggeration is damaging to the confidence that the American people have in their leaders. This has undermined Mr. Trump more than any of his policies have. Tell us the truth. Make decisions based on science and facts and stop thinking you have to look infallible, We all know better and that goes for Trump and the Dems. They both are performing in a dreadful fashion and are not serving those who elected them or pay them.

         I am almost ready to vote for whoever is running against the incumbent just to get the current Congress out. I am not ready to do this just yet, but I am very carefully examining the performance of my current members of Congress, particularly the senators who I believe are awful.

         America needs new leadership at every level. Most importantly it needs leadership willing to listen to others. My hope is that Mr. Biden serves as a transition to the future. I only hope I live to see what happens if he’s elected and after.

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