Caroline C. Lewis / October 5, 2017

Why Congress Isn’t Working and What You Can Do About It

Even a casual observer can notice that something is deeply wrong in Congress. So now what?

Even a casual observer can notice that something is deeply wrong in Congress. For eight years we trudged through vetoes and blocks by Barack Obama and his administration. Then things changed. Big time. Republicans won the House, the Senate and the presidency, a miracle so unbelievable that the opposition is still trying to figure out “what happened.”

This was the GOP’s moment. Conservatives were going to take the hill … literally. But while Hillary Clinton is still issuing blame for “what happened” in her campaign failure, conservatives are also asking “what happened” to our campaign victory. We wonder why Republicans can’t get health care done, and why tax policy is such a struggle. Why everything is such a struggle.

First, some assumed that an “R” by a person’s name meant “conservative.” That assumption has proven to be wrong. The big reveal this year has been the depth of the fault lines within the GOP, not the “deep divisions” between red states and blue states. On the Republican side of the aisle, there’s a blend of types spanning from the principled conservatives to the establishment types to the libertarian-leaning sort to the Trumpian populists.

On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats vote as a block and as a team, mainly because they tend to be more focused on the endgame: winning.

Republicans could learn something from this method. Conservatives vote for their principles while establishment types cling to their power. This fault line within the GOP has proven to be the greatest barrier to winning. So how do Republicans win when a minority establishment group continues to block the good things the rest of Congress supports? Is it too much to ask that all Republicans be conservative, or at least try to work together?

To begin our audit, we need to evaluate the team as a whole. Evoking a sports analogy, there are some players on the team who refuse to catch a pass. The ball is thrown and they stand around with their hands in their pockets. Or they dodge the ball entirely. In a real football game, the coach would pull them off the field and put them on the bench. Republicans can’t win the game with players who refuse to play … or even worse, play so that the other team wins. Rather than snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, these players manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The GOP has some really great players, and a president who will support them, but a handful of do-nothings continue to sabotage the ability to win.

Another issue within Congress is the incentive structure. Regular business incentivizes people to take risks so that they can make a profit. In business the goal is the endgame: selling your product. The congressional system motivates elected officials to play it safe. One wrong move and the media slam them with labels, followed by their election loss. One high-risk move can (or should) mean “out of a job” to a politician. Thus, the system motivates some members of Congress to do just enough to tell the constituents they did something, but not enough to really make any major changes. To return to the football analogy, success for some members of Congress means returning home with a clean uniform. “Look,” they brag, “I didn’t even get a scratch!” This is unacceptable. We sent them there to play the game, not to come home with a clean uniform.

In real life, we have no problem letting hotel managers know when the service they promised and failed to deliver was unacceptable. And we don’t wait two years to say something, hoping that the management will change.

We should have the same resolve to change unacceptable service from Congress. If this is a government by the people and for the people, then the people need to say something. Remember the old saying about crime? See something, say something. This should be the same way we deal with Congress. If we see something — something that inadequately represents our interests — then we should say something. The trick is that we need to be watching what is going on in order to “see something” so that we can “say something.”

There’s a caveat, here. People do say something, quite loudly and often. But voters rarely do anything. The congressional re-election rate is typically above 90%, despite lawmakers’ low approval. “Throw [the other guys’] bums out,” we suppose.

The final issue with Congress is how they are shielded from the laws they make. Case in point: ObamaCare. If members of Congress actually saw their health care options change from a reasonable price with reasonable care to ridiculously expensive and covering nothing, then maybe they would be more motivated to pass something.

In the end, “We the People” can pull the players off the field who just stand around and deliberately miss a pass. It’s called elections. And in the meantime, we need to call their offices and let them know when we see a poor performance, and encourage them when they do something right.

To find the contact information of your elected officials, click here.

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