It’s the People, Not the Process

Recent struggles notwithstanding, Congress could still manage to complete its appropriations work this year.

That may seem like a stretch given thorny issues like gun control, immigration, transgender rights and, yes, even displays of confederate imagery. Granted, the fact that this is an election year—a hotly-contested presidential election year at that—complicates everything, even those issues that could be resolved with all the strain of someone swinging shut a screen door.

No one should expect miracles. It’s been 22 years since all appropriations bills were passed individually prior to the start of the fiscal year—what we old-timers called “regular order.” Nowadays, a 1,600-page omnibus appropriations bill, replete with typographical errors, conflicting instructions and long-expired reauthorizations pass for monumental accomplishments.

How does Congress get back on track and fulfill its constitutional duties?

Some have suggested that a joint committee be tasked with overhauling the organization and operation of Congress to make it more accountable. Changing the rules, procedures and structures of this 227 year-old legislative body, they say, would lead to better governance and improved relations among members.

Seriously? How about a congressional app? (“Hey girl, I would definitely swipe right on your voting record!”)

Recent polls show that between 9 – 12 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. In a December 2015 Gallup poll on honesty and ethics, members of Congress ranked just below car salespeople and slightly above telemarketers and (ahem) lobbyists.

What’s missing—what voters expect from government—is solutions. And solutions generally don’t evolve from stalemates. Perhaps Henry Clay said it best: “All legislation, all government, all society is founded upon the principle of mutual concession, politeness, comity, courtesy; upon these everything is based.”

Change the rules and procedures if you must. But I doubt much will change until the people elected by the people for the people take to heart the words of the noted philosopher William Stephen Belichick: “Just do your job.”

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