By Sam Stone
There’s no recession in Washington, D.C. Massive building and construction projects blossom like D.C.’s famous trees. Vast, unending snakes of luxury automobiles slither along the streets. On any given day, many of D.C.’s myriad pricey boutiques and restaurants are standing-room-only.
It’s a different world.
Even the commercials are different. City buses grind around town plastered in messages sponsored by the AFL-CIO, imploring Congress to avoid cuts in federal spending programs. Ads designed not to appeal to the masses, but to provide one more avenue for lobbyists and special interest organizations to bend the ear of our elected officials, run endlessly on television.
It’s a glitzy, seductive high-profile bubble.
Spend time in D.C. these days, and it’s easy to see how so many well-intentioned Congressmen and Senators get trapped by the system. It’s not just Washington politics; it’s D.C. life. Elected officials are treated like kings: car services, staffers catering to their every need, posh apartments. The most succulent, extravagant dinners served, because of ethics laws, on a stick. And free booze. Lots and lots of free booze.
But it’s a lie.
People on Main Street are suffering. Despite one optimistic forecast after another, the recession really hasn’t gone anywhere. Although the White House and Federal Reserve Bank keep parroting the line that inflation is stagnant, prices for basic necessities like food, gasoline and heating fuel have more than doubled in recent years. Official joblessness rates grossly undervalue the problem by including people working part-time or seasonal jobs, and by assuming that anyone who hasn’t had a job recently is no longer interested in finding one. Real national unemployment is probably closer to 15% than the 7.9% our government is willing to admit to.
At home, still stuck in the bubble
Members of Congress rarely – if ever – even get to see the truth. When they do return to their State or District, it’s usually for a quick weekend of campaigning. They’re hustled from place to place, rarely stopping anywhere for more than an hour or so. They’re still surrounded by staffers whose job it is to cater to their every whim.
Even during longer breaks when Congress is in session, the routine doesn’t really change. Campaigns these days essentially never close up shop. One of the great advantages of incumbency is access to the enormous cresting waves of PAC, union and special interest donations an incumbent can secure for their reelection war chest. So while Congress may be on recess from time to time, the business of staying in Congress doesn’t stop. Instead of spending time talking with everyday citizens when they’re home, elected officials are stuck on the phone soliciting donations from groups who are only too eager to assist – so long as the recipients of their cash remember those debts the next time a vote comes down on the floor.
What’s the answer?
Term limits sound great, but until everyone agrees to play by the same set of rules, term-limiting yourself is just a way to ensure your Party leadership doesn’t take you seriously. No one becomes Chair of Ways and Means in their first term.
No, the best thing we could do is ask Congress to work less. Six months out of each year in D.C. should be plenty and, if our Representatives had to spend half of each year at home surrounded by their constituents, it’d be a lot harder for them to miss (or simply ignore) what’s really going on in America. Voters would have far more opportunities to get in front of our elected officials. And, as we saw with the Obamacare Town Halls across the country in 2010, they might be more than a little surprised at what they find.
Of course, less time in Washington also means that our elected officials would have to do less. Which, considering the mess they’re making of our nation, might be the biggest improvement of all.