Two polls were released last week showing that less than 10% of Americans approve of the 112th Congress’ performance. Not only are those the lowest approval ratings in the history of polling, but the dissatisfaction isn’t linked to just one party either. Only 9% of Democrats, 10% of Republicans and 11% of Independents approve of Congress’s job. Why then, do they keep getting re-elected? Even in the 2010 midterm elections, which were supposedly fueled by anti-incumbent sentiment across the nation, 87% of Representatives and 84% of Senators who were up for re-election won their races. If you’re looking for the source of the political stagnation and lack of progress on many issues, you need look no further than Capitol Hill.
Congress has consistently failed on almost every issue, from economic recovery, to raising the debt ceiling, to passing a budget, to our very own national security. In early 2011, the Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would provide healthcare for the first responders on September 11. After a national uproar, the bill finally passed, but the Senate Republicans would only end their filibuster after the provision that provided for cancer treatment for first responders was removed from the bill. That’s right, they would only provide healthcare for 9/11 first responders if that healthcare didn’t include cancer treatment. For 9/11 first responders. Congress also failed to pass the American Jobs Act which provided cuts in the payroll tax and on small business taxes, while not adding a dime to the deficit. The bill actually had a majority in the Senate, but in today’s Congress it takes 60 votes, not 50 to pass a bill.
And then there’s national security. The 112th Congress has repeatedly put the national security of the United States in jeopardy in order to fulfill their political goals. Three weeks ago, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing for the the nominees for Ambassadors to Pakistan and Afghanistan, arguably the two most important positions in terms our national security. The confirmation for the Ambassador to Pakistan was delayed by the Republican leadership because they “didn’t have a chance to fully question him”. He won’t be confirmed until at least after the summer recess ends in September. Now, I was actually at that hearing. I saw multiple Republican senators show up late to the hearing and most didn’t ask questions. One Senator, current Republican darling Marco Rubio, not only showed up late, didn’t ask a single question, but also seemingly didn’t pay attention at all during the hearing. For the Republicans to hold up the confirmation of the most strategically important position in the State Department because they were too uninterested to question the nominee during the hearing is not only political showmanship, but it’s simply damaging to the national security of the United States, which should never be put in jeopardy so a Senator can say he voted against President Obama’s nomination.
When the Speaker of the House of Representatives announces that his number one mission is to ensure the President isn’t re-elected, we know Congress’ priorities are a little misplaced. Shouldn’t Congress’ priority ALWAYS be to serve the best interests of the United States of America? Sure, there should always be disagreements, and that’s a good thing, but healthcare for the 9/11 first responders is the right decision, no matter what. Passing the American Jobs Act, which was based around a Republican proposals, was the right move. Confirming the nominee for Ambassador to Pakistan, a long-time servant of our country and an accomplished statesman, was the right move. Members of both houses of Congress in both parties need to set aside their political goals and realize that some things are simply the right decisions, no matter who proposed them.
While the situation is certainly worse now than in recent years, this isn’t a new problem. It stems from the seemingly endless campaign seasons in Congress. Members of the House of Representatives serve for 2 years, and have no term limits. Senators serve for longer, but still have no term limits. Almost every Representative and Senator, from both parties, spends too much time in Congress and campaigning to be in Congress. That cycle will inevitably make them all indebted to some special interest or another. It’s virtually impossible to get repeatedly elected without help from someone.
My solution is term limits for Senators and Representatives, and make the terms of both 4 years. 2 year terms result in representatives constantly campaigning, and 6 years is too long to be sitting in Congress. It may not solve all of our problems, but it would sure help a whole lot.