A seismic shift? Or more of the same? Last Tuesday’s Congressional elections shocked both Democrats and Republicans, but just what change is expected? Opinions are still polarized, and it doesn’t sound like the newly-elected Republican Tea Partiers are interested in finding common ground to do the people’s work. Presumptive Speaker John Boehner (R-8 OH) says he wants to change the way things are done in Washington, and suggests that all bills should be posted on-line for three days before a vote. He didn’t say whether that same rule would apply to amendments during floor debate, an approach that could further slow the legislative process.
We’ve been here before. In the 1960s, Congressional wives banded together to plead for a more family-friendly schedule, and got their legislator husbands to put summer vacations for Congress on the calendar. They also begged for more rational voting schedules that would allow Members to get home in time for dinner, instead of all the late night voting that happens now. In those days, more Members lived locally with their families, and went home only during school holidays. By the 1980s, more Congressional families stayed in their home districts, and the Members went home most weekends, aided by more jet flights out of National Airport, and a Congressional schedule that slated no votes on Mondays and Fridays. A West Coast legislator could take a late Thursday flight, spend a long weekend at home, and catch the red-eye Monday night, arriving on the Hill Tuesday morning, a bit bleary-eyed, but nonetheless present for votes. Today’s Congressional meeting schedule appears almost non-stop, making it difficult even for local Members to attend evening constituent meetings just across the river.
As I noted in a previous column, campaigning is easy. It’s governance that’s hard. It takes a lot of examination and patience, thoughtful discussion, hard questions and even more difficult answers, respect for differing opinions, and leadership to get to a point where meaningful legislation can be passed. If that happens in the House, you have to start all over to get it through the Senate, and vice versa. There’s a good reason why someone said that you never want to watch sausage or legislation being made. The result is good, but the process is messy. We’ve already seen a lot of messy in the most recent campaigns. Will it stay that way? It’s much easier to throw bombs than to catch them. Will the new Members segue from their sound-bite promises to real life legislative issues? Or will shrill voices simply add to the cacophony, giving no ground to thoughtful dialogue? It’s a huge challenge for any leader, Democrat or Republican.
My father was a veteran, and so was my grandfather. I’ll be thinking of them today as we observe Veterans Day at “Cannon Island” in the middle of Annandale. Hopefully, during the moments of silence for veterans of today and yesterday, we’ll remember that they fought, and some died, to preserve our system of government, as we face the peaceful transition of the House of Representatives from one party to the other. We are blessed to be Americans.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]