Thursday, July 28, 2016

What's wrong with Washington and how to fix it

My wife purchased and I read (she is immersed in a novel and has not gotten around to it yet) the book by two former Senate majority leaders, Tom Daschle (D) and Trent Lott (R), "Crisis Point." I had heard about the book on NPR's "Diane Rehm Show" and in published reviews. 

Lott and Daschle lay out what's wrong with Washington, and there's plenty wrong. There is also plenty of blame to go around. Both parties over years of increasingly partisan politics have contributed to an atmosphere of obstruction, persecution, non-stop campaigning and other ills that have led to an inability to get anything substantive accomplished. Even passing a federal budget has become undoable.

Lott and Daschle, who got along well for being two antagonists in highly volatile times, point to the explosion of money in political campaigns and politicians' need to constantly raise money or lose to a better-funded candidate. But there is more. In the 1990s, spurred by House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich, the House developed a calendar that is essentially a three-day work week, from Tuesday to Thursday. Gingrich claimed that would keep representatives closer to their constituents because they could "go home" every weekend. What they did on those weekends, however, was more about raising campaign funds than talking to constituents. It had another impact: Representatives were not in Washington with their colleagues. The collegial atmosphere of Congress was lost. The Washington social scene, which kept congressmen and their families together and built cross-party friendships, was no more.

Another factor was redistricting, which is required by the Constitution every 10 years. But the increased capabilities of computerized redistricting made it possible to create congressional districts that sliced voter populations down to a single Democrat or Republican. That created all kinds of mischief. Democrats and Republicans created districts that made their incumbents virtually challenge-proof. In the past few years, most members of Congress had to worry more about a party primary challenger than about the general election opponent because one party's voters dominated more and more electoral districts.

Lott and Daschle offer some recommendations for improving Congress and the election process, which could at least improve productivity on Capitol Hill.

This election year, with a candidate promising to overturn all that's wrong with Washington with the stroke of a pen or a dictatorial edict, the Daschle-Lott book may seem to complicated for the electorate, but it's worth a read. The authors are guys who have been inside the machinery of government. They know how it works, and they have some good suggestions for fixing things without resorting to one-man rule.

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