A view of the U.S. Capitol Building on July 25, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Evan Golub/Zuma Press/TNS)

Guest opinion: Congress must get back to work

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Politics has become exceedingly divisive with troubling outcomes. America’s 323 million people are concerned.

Congress has had 10 months to address a multitude of key issues facing this country. They include infrastructure repair, tax reform, farm bill, health-care reform, DACA, immigration reform, fiscal 2018 budget, federal deficit, international trade agreements, civil-rights protection, women’s inequality, energy-grid fortification, foreign policy, cybersecurity, and criminal-justice reform.

Not one of these issues has been resolved. Our 535 lawmakers have come up empty-handed and failed us miserably. The current 10 percent congressional approval rating, lowest since 1974, is well-deserved.

The root of our lawmakers’ abysmal performance is disturbing and self-evident.

First, Congress only works 133 days a year versus typical Americans’ 240 days. Imagine working 55 percent of the time, receiving $174,000 as salary (plus health care and retirement benefits), getting 13 weeks of “recess,” accomplish little to nothing, and not get fired.

Our 535 lawmakers insist they must get back home and meet with their constituents while holding fundraisers to get re-elected. However, they have numerous full-time staff members in their district to handle constituent problems. Plus, if the lawmakers are worth their salt they won’t have to hold fundraisers because their constituents will know they are working hard to represent the people and will freely give of their hard-earned savings to keep the getting-the-job-done politicians in office.

A second problem is related to how our members of Congress spend their two to three days per week while in D.C. “60 Minutes” conducted a hidden-camera operation and obtained testimony from Emeritus Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., that six hours per day is devoted to raising money for re-election. Party officials told Jolly he needed to raise $18,000 a day, and Jolly admitted “members of Congress spend too much time raising money and not enough time doing their job.”

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The third problem is our lawmakers voluntarily serve on 20 to 30 of the nearly 230 different caucuses, everything from the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus to the Congressional Shellfish Caucus and Friends of Finland Caucus.

This caucus involvement is above and beyond the members serving on several of the 20 House standing committees, 16 Senate standing committees, four joint committees, and other committees of importance (e.g., aging, ethics, intelligence, etc.). Citizens concur that focusing on legislation to improve America should have priority over caucus attendance and fundraising.

The fourth problem in D.C. is realizing our political parties have evolved into five different factions per party. GOP lawmakers are now split into Christian Right Republicans, Libertarian Republicans, Main Street Business Republicans, Neoconservative Republicans, and Populist Authoritarian Nationalist Republicans (often referred as Donald Trump-Steve Bannon-Laura Ingraham Republicans). The Democratic Party wings include Conservative Democrats, Centrist Democrats, Liberal Democrats, Libertarian Democrats, and Progressive Democrats.

If you tie having splintered political parties that can’t get along with their peers of the same basic ideological persuasion, devoting time to dozens of the 230 voluntary caucus groups and dozens of standing committees and then fundraising six hours per day during the two to three days per week while in D.C., we’ve got a significant problem.

The solution is simple: 1) work five days a week in D.C., 2) take 10 days of vacation like the average American you represent, 3) spend six hours per day on legislation versus fundraising and caucus attendance, and 4) work in a bipartisan manner in your own party and across-the-aisle to get the job done.

Dear Congress: If you can’t accommodate these four requests, we’ll replace you with a mature and responsible citizen who cares more about the people than the party and getting re-elected. This party-before-country behavior has gone on far too long.

— Steve Corbin
Professor Emeritus of Marketing
University of Northern Iowa

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