Don't Forget About Congress
With the summer of 2012 almost over, the national and international political media are preoccupied with the next US presidential election. But even as the media focuses on Obama and Romney, it is the congressional elections that might truly define the future for the United States and the world.
Congressional elections will determine who will be draft and modify bills, and eventually vote them into law. Romney and Obama can promise all the reform and changes they want, but once they are in the Oval Office they cannot change anything without the backing of Congress.
The issue of who is elected to Congress is even more important because of the unbearable level of partisanship in our current legislature and political system. The expressed view of the majority of the politicians, media, and people today is that bipartisanship and compromise are bad words that will not get you reelected. Legislators such as Richard Lugar, Orrin Hatch, and Claire McCaskill have been punished for reaching across the aisle. Partisanship in Washington today has meant that little substantive legislation has been passed in the last two years. It has been filibusters, threats of filibusters, and vote after vote on bills with no hope of passing since the last midterm elections.
There was a time when legislative votes reflected not party lines, but rather the will of the American people, the needs of the constituents, and the conscience of those elected. There were presidencies such as Eisenhower’s, where the commander-in-chief could engage Congress even if it was controlled by the opposing party in order to produce important legislation for the good of the nation. There are also examples like the Clinton administration, when a health care bill championed by the president was rejected by a Congress controlled by his same party. Recent procedural changes, such as the ease of use, and therefore excessive use, of the filibuster, meant that support of Congress is even more important today than ever.
No doubt the position of president is important as the bearer of the ideology and overall strategy. The president is our chief executive, our chief diplomat and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. However, it is Congress that has both the power of the purse and the power to enact laws. The president is a lightning rod for public wrath generated by economic down turns, unemployment, and loss in essential social services. However, there should be as much blame on Congress for not passing new taxes, or closing loopholes, and for not passing job creation laws. Congress should focus more on legislating for public good than on the next election.
Everyone should go vote in November and follow not just the presidential race, but also the congressional ones. Everyone should strive to be well informed on all the candidates’ positions. Elect them for what they believe and not just their party affiliation.
In the months left leading to the election, we should also ask our candidates to state not only their positions on the issues but also what compromises they envision to allow progress. We should demand not only debates to see how different the candidates are, but rather mock legislative working sessions to see that they can work with their opposition for the national good. Intelligence, ideas, and conscience are prerequisites for public servants. Willingness to listen, to engage in dialog, and to compromise are also key traits. We are a nation of reasonable people, accepting of our neighbors’ differences in cultural and religious views. We should elect reasonable legislators representative of us. We should be accepting of our varying political views, too.