The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 28, 2014

Our View: Congress changes, but to what?

Why it matters: Change is being driven by limited special interests determined to achieve only their agenda -- not yours

The Mankato Free Press

---- — So far this year, 20 lawmakers are retiring from the U.S. House (nine Democrats and 11 Republicans) and six from the U.S. Senate (two Democrats and four Republicans)

It’s not a large number and there are some who would argue new blood is always needed in governance. However, who is retiring is significant.

Five Senate committee chairmen — with a combined 150 years in government — are stepping aside.

In the House, three committee chairmen in the past two months are retiring including Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the longest serving legislator in U.S. history.

A recent Washington Post report suggested the reasons for these retirements are because Congress isn’t what it used to be. “Almost no major legislation follows the ‘how-a-bill-becomes-law’ path that students used to learn in their social studies classes.” (Social study classes? Do they exist anymore?)

Dingell’s departure is a continuing changing of the guard and the end of an old style of power.

Dingell told the Detroit News “I find serving in the House to be obnoxious. It’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets.”

Dingell was not considered part of the new wave of ultra-liberal activist lawmakers that was moving into the Congress in 2006. According to the Post, he was seen as an obstacle to climate-change legislation and other measures that he opposed on behalf of his constituents — and the industries that employ them — in the industrial Midwest. He also found himself increasingly out of step with many of his Democratic colleagues in other areas, including gun control. Dingell was once a National Rifle Association board member. Dingell is a liberal of the old school. He fought for expanded health care coverage for decades until finally the Affordable Care Act reached fruition. But he was a compromiser on issues meant to move the country forward.

It used to be that serving your country was considered an honor and a privilege. Now opinion polls note that Americans have extremely low regard for Congress, compromise is considered almost treasonous in some political quarters and tearing down an idea is considered sport while conversely offering alternatives can be politically dangerous.

“This Congress has been a great disappointment to everyone — members, media, citizens and our country,” he said. “Little has been done in this Congress, with 57 bills passed into law. That is not Heinz packaged varieties, it is the laws passed by the Congress.”

Do we as a nation really want this method of governance? Maybe so. But “Is it fixable?” Dingell asked in an interview with the Post. “There’s only one person that can fix it, and there’s only one group of people that can answer that question, and that’s the voters. If they want it to change, it will change.”

Until we collectively remember that we are ultimately responsible for the way our nation is governed and get involved, change will be driven by limited special interests determined to achieve only their agenda — not yours.