Congress and Me (second draft)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about politics. Those of you that know me are aware of my disdain for the whole process. I am not Republican, I am not a Democrat, I am not affiliated with the Greens or Libertarians. These parties, I feel, do more to separate Americans into bickering groups than they do to actually benefit the country in any way. To be honest, there’s a lot I don’t know about this whole politics thing. I know my own views on certain issues while having absolutely no idea which party I would align with in each given situation; it just isn’t important to me.

I am aware, however, that “Congressman” is a bit of a blanket term, covering both Senators and state Representatives, and that the number of representatives each state has is a direct correlation to the state’s populace and number of electoral votes. This makes sense to me: more people means more issues to work out, which leads to a greater need for public servants.

Having said that, they hardly seem like “public servants” to me. I’m constantly reading stories about Congress passing legislation from which they exempt themselves, forcing laws on the American people that are somehow deemed unworthy for their own use(more on that later). Now I don’t disagree with the fact that we need people to represent the majority’s interests. It would be far too anarchic having individuals represent themselves; nothing would ever get done.

But that leads me to my next point: what exactly does Congress do? I’m aware of their general purpose, but I’m wholly unfamiliar with a more down to earth, day-to-day routine. When I write to my Congressman, I’m not writing to an address in my home state, but rather to an address in Washington, D.C. Why is that? If my state representatives are all living in a different part of the country, how can they possibly be familiar with the specific needs of their people? Now yes I am aware that they take three or four (I think) trips per month to their home state in a mandatory (yes, mandatory) effort to stay connected, just as I’m aware of the idea that we, as citizens, are supposed to make our voices heard and let our individual representatives know what it is we need. I am also aware that the United States government only provides funds to cover the cost of 12 trips each year, thus leaving the remaining travel expenses to the Congressman his or herself. What I’m asking is, why do representatives need to live in Washington when they could just be used as middlemen between the Senators and the people?

This could help explain the high salaries received by members of Congress. Not only are they saddled with these additional expenses, but they are now also forced to maintain their lives in two separate homes in accordance with two different costs of living, one of which (Washington) has one of the highest costs of living in the entire country. I understand the “need” for it, as explained earlier: they must be able to meet and vote in Congress while maintaining a stable relationship with the populace they represent. A populace, I might add, that a majority voted for in an effort to align their interests with ours. Alright, so we have the people we want in the offices we want them in, representing our needs to the best of their ability. What’s the problem, then?

The problem is the idea that these members of Congress are NOT representing us to the best of their abilities, but instead only looking out for themselves and leaving “we the people” to feast on the crumbs. This is best shown in the aforementioned ability they have to exclude themselves from any laws they pass. Take Obamacare, for instance. I for one don’t know a whole lot about it; I never read it, and everything I see is just propoganda made in an effort to make one party look bad (another issue I’ll get more in-depth with later). What I do know is Congress has voted themselves exempt from Obamacare, opting instead to keep their already existent health benefits. Why? Because we’re getting the crumbs once again, the morsels that have fallen to our collective mouths from the edges of their gold-rimmed china. If it’s not good enough for the person representing us, why is it good enough for us? I don’t mind dining on kraft macaroni and cheese every once in a while, so long as you don’t treat yourself to a porterhouse every night while we’re at the same table. And don’t kid yourselves, we are at the same table. We are all citizens of the same country no matter what views you hold or how much money you make.

Money. That’s another one. I took the liberty of checking out some charts detailing the per capita income (PCI) of each state over the last ten years, and was not the least bit surprised to find that the citizens of Washington made an average of about $15,000 more in 2010 (the most recent year on the graph) than citizens of any other state, with members of Congress averaging about $174,000 per year and members of the Senate making over $193,000. Not only that, but even after retirement, these same people are still making anywhere from $36,000 to $64,000 per year. Now let’s say these men and women were actually working for us like they’re elected to. It goes without saying that they should be paid for their work, and they do work hard. However, making triple or quadruple the national average seems totally unacceptable to me. Why not have the Senators live in Washington and the representatives live in their home state, with their salaries adjusted to the PCI of that state? This would not only serve to eliminate the need to constantly fly back and forth, but it would greatly improve the impact people can and will have on their local Congressmen. And do they really need the constant meetings and travelling? Let’s face it, the advent of the technological age makes all of that a thing of the past. I see no need why we still need these hundreds of men and women to continue meeting in person for voting purposes. Establish meetings among the local representatives, determine what is in the best interests of the people, and have those members contact the Senators, who are still in Washington. Create a Skype account if you want to talk face-to-face; it’s not that hard.

As for the issue of party affiliations, I just don’t get it. Maybe you can help me to understand. How does it benefit the country to split each and every issue into an attack, making one side black and the other white? There is always a middle ground, a gray area, and whether we choose to find it is up to us. Sadly, it seems nobody wants to hear that. It’s all “my way or the highway” with all this party nonsense, each with their own petty squabbles and constant conflicts. Think for yourself, not how a group of others tells you to think. For example, let’s say you’re pro-gay marriage but anti-abortion. Do you have to sacrifice one ideal for the other, just because your party of choice doesn’t agree with your personal feelings? Absolutely not, but it astounds me how commonplace this kind of behavior is. Personally I tend to see things as more of a democrat (so I’m told). However, if the Democratic party were to tell me something is wrong or unamerican, as politicians so often do, am I just going to take their word for it? No! I can make my own decisions. And when that decision is made, I can vote on it how I see fit and contact my Congressional Representative with my concerns. At least, I wish it was that simple. Instead we are split into factions, constantly warring with one another over power and dominance, all while getting bent over by those that are supposed to be helping bring us together.

The government is partly to blame, yes, but so am I. And so are you. If we want something from our government, we have to let our voices be heard. Not as individuals, but as a unified front that cannot be stopped. The only problem is these unified fronts always end up becoming a new political party, and that is the LAST thing we need. We need a party without an agenda, composed of citizens that are willing to both talk and listen without getting blinded by their own beliefs.