Why Congress is Failing the United States

Get your mind off the white house; this is where the real problem is.
Get your mind off the white house; this is where the real problem is.

I am not a political expert, I’m just a regular U.S. citizen who took a much closer interest in politics beginning with the 2008 election. One of the things that I learned very early on is that, while the president has a great deal of power, the majority of the changes our country goes through, originate and become a reality in congress. There are two branches of congress; the Senate and the House of Representatives. The senate has two representatives from each state, totaling 100 men and women. The house is more dynamic in the sense that it is population based. If your state has a higher concentration of people, it will have more representatives (a good reason to fill out your census). In order for any bill to become law, it must pass with a “majority” vote and then be signed by the president. I put majority in quotation marks because having a higher number of votes doesn’t mean something passes. I’ll get more into that later. But anyway, I was surprised by how often the decisions of congress were attributed directly to the president, when he had little to do with what they turned out. Yes, the president has influence and he is the one to inevitably sign something into law, but the hard fought battles of the years following 2008 were largely fought in congress. And, after observing those battles, I’m convinced that Congress is failing the United States.

The Filibuster

This word popped up a lot during the first few years of the Obama administration, and a lot of people were quickly acquainted with the idea of it. The filibuster is a tactic of a congressman (or woman) who opposes a majority decision and uses obstructive tactics (like long winded speeches) to prevent congress from moving forward with the thing they oppose (Source: Dictionary.com). From what I understand, a filibuster cannot last forever. Congress can only be held up for as long as the congress-person can continue obstructing it. Therefore, if they did not succeed in convincing others of their position, they would inevitably lose the battle. I could be wrong, but that was the impression I got. Interestingly enough, despite how many times we heard the word used, during the democratic majority, no one actually filibustered. For the longest time, bills were held up because of the threat of a filibuster.

So, apparently, no one has to actually stand in congress, giving long winded speeches, to get the same effect, and this sent the opposing side running to look for compromises. It’s kind of like if you were in a room with ten other people and everyone wanted to order pizza except one guy who wanted a hamburger. If you only had enough money to get one, you’d probably get the pizza because the majority wanted it; that’s what our whole system of democracy is based on. Having said that, we also have protections in place so that the minority isn’t forgotten. Which is great, however when you look at the news and see a vote that says 69 yes, 31 no and it fails, you have to sit back and wonder if the system is really working or not. For two years, at the beginning of Obama's presidency, the democrats had a "super-majority", which is supposed to be filibuster-proof, and yet every bill was a struggle to pass. I understand that the minority should be consulted to reach the best agreement possible, but it got pretty ridiculous and hasn't gotten much better. In my opinion, if someone is threatening to filibuster, let them. See if they actually have the guts to stand there and talk for twelve hours straight. If they do, then think about compromise, if they don’t then let the bill pass.

Corporate Influence and Lobbyists

Any time that a survey, or person, asks me what the single most important problem with our government is, my answer is always the same: corporate influence and lobbyists. The original intent of lobbyists wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Special interests, that helped elect officials, could travel to Washington to help remind those officials what platforms and issues had helped elect them (Source: Dictionary.com). So, for example, if I ran a non-profit organization that helped children of poor families attend college, I could then send a lobbyist to Washington to speak with the representative I helped elect. The representative would then try to fight to keep laws in place, or make new laws, to help children of poor families attend college. That’s a very basic idea of what a lobbyist is intended for, and when phrased that way, it doesn’t sound so bad. The problem is that helpful for-the-people organizations aren’t the only ones that can have lobbyists in Washington. Anyone with enough money, that helped elect that representative, can send people to influence our politicians. A good example is the struggle that took place over the Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare". A number of private sector healthcare providers (or the companies that own them) helped elect certain members of congress. So when this new bill came up, that would create tighter restrictions on the industry, they panicked and began twisting the arms of every representative they helped elect, forcing them to oppose the bill. Who does the congress person listen to: the money that got them where they are, or the people who elected them? The answer should be obvious, except in this country, money is power. If you have enough of it, you can make people believe anything.

This corporate influence has only gotten worse with the Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United. Essentially that ruling defined corporations as people, which allows them to spend unlimited amounts of money on candidates of their choice (Source). And it won’t be easy to tell which candidate is funded through big corporations because they create any number of smaller organizations, known as PACs and Super PACs, to make sure no one knows where the money is really coming from. While we would all like to believe that our candidates are elected on merit, it’s hard to learn about each candidate when one is on television every thirty seconds and the other is virtually unknown because they have no campaign money. That just isn’t a fair election. Other than corporations being shut out of campaign funding, and lobbying, we need an election system that gives equal time to each candidate and provides equal (unbiased) information.

Term Limits

The President of the United States is limited to two, four year terms. So they have four years to do good things, then must face re-election to get another four years. Similar term limits exist for governors and mayors, so I can’t help but wonder why we don’t have this system in place for members of congress. It has gotten to the point where some states can have the same senator for decades, for no other reason than they are recognizable. When you elect new representatives, you get fresh new ideas from people who haven’t been politicians their entire life, with a fire in their hearts to really make a difference. Representatives who have been in congress for long periods of time get lethargic and comfortable with the status quo, and if they have corporate cash behind them, what incentive is there at all to make big important changes? The will of the people is constantly changing with each generation, but the modern generation is still being governed by much older generations who faced much different problems. We need people who are close to today’s problems and geared up to deal with them, not old men who’ve gotten too comfortable. We need term limits in the United States congress and we also need more transparency about where our senators and representatives are getting their funding, and how it’s being used. If you’re interested in supporting term limits, you can find one such organization here.

Teddy Roosevelt ran under a third party and lost, not because he was a bad candidate, but because it split the republican vote. What incentive is enough for us to vote for a third party?
Teddy Roosevelt ran under a third party and lost, not because he was a bad candidate, but because it split the republican vote. What incentive is enough for us to vote for a third party?

The Myth of Bipartisanship and the Swinging Pendulum

The political atmosphere tends to swing like a pendulum. We elect one party, then we elect the other party when the next election rolls around. It has nothing to do with either party changing and everything to do with U. S. citizens always being unhappy with their government. When we see something happen that we don’t like, we just assume that electing the other party will fix it, even if that other party got us into a huge mess four years prior. Because of this; our representatives in congress have no incentive to work together or ‘reach across the aisle’ because they know that if they wait it out, they’ll be in power again in a few years. The idiocy of this style of representation boggles my mind. How can we, as citizens, expect our government to change, when we keep re-electing the same crappy government over and over again?

Part of the problem is a lack of term limits, and part of it is corporate influence. Third parties have no chance of actually getting in because they don’t have the funding and people don’t take them as seriously. Or, in many cases, a third party is too big of a risk. Back in the early twentieth century, Teddy Roosevelt broke away from his party and formed what was called the ‘bull-moose’ party, then ran against the republican candidate (Taft). The result was a split vote that catapulted Woodrow Wilson (the democratic candidate) into the presidency (Source). Can anyone tell me what is wrong with this picture? In my mind, the problem is a sense of risk, which is why we are so glued to the two party system right now. We have liberals and conservatives, but creating a new party in either direction, or as a mix of the two, is too risky to waste a vote on because third parties never have a chance. Therefore we’ve narrowed it down to just two parties.

The problem with two parties, however, is how easy it is to demonize the opposing side. When there are multiple parties, you actually have to look at what they’re about to understand what kind of candidate you’re getting. With the democrats and republicans, you can just assume what they’re about based on the smallest pieces of information. For example, you could just assume that Democrats favor abortion and tree hugging, while Republicans favor guns and hate homosexuals. But that isn’t an accurate description at all. Each individual candidate has their own complex viewpoints, just like you do, but because of the risk of running for any different party, they get pigeon-holed into one of the big two. It has turned politics into a war where we just view the opposing side as the enemy and call it a day. When in reality, we’re all part of the same freaking country! If we’re going to fight each other like children then let’s just drop all pretenses and have a second civil war. But if we want to be smart, sensible people, then let’s fix this broken, two party system. This comes back to my idea that elections need to be fair, with each candidate having equal funding and easy-to-access information (including third parties!).

Bills within Bills

There are a lot of times, during a political debate, where a candidate will claim that their opponent voted against something good. For example let’s say that Apple and Orange are running for president. Orange says that, while in the senate, Apple voted against giving food to starving children. Then the news does a fact check and says that it is true and voters start to hate Apple. What they don’t realize is that the bill Apple voted against wasn’t just a bill about feeding starving children, but rather it was a bill that would allow more pollution into the air and the feeding children bill was just attached to it. This is an example of how screwy congress’s legislative process is. Rather than vote on each topic individually, each bill has numerous other issues attached to it. Still using the healthcare law as an example; when republicans couldn’t get the votes to repeal it outright, they tried to attach the repeal to other bills or de-fund it entirely under a new budget (Source). As far as I can tell, there are two reasons for these bills within bills; one is to get your agenda passed by attaching it to something that has to pass. And the other is for finger pointing during election season. While I can understand its use for getting difficult things passed, it is also an extremely deceptive tactic. We should be compromising, but we shouldn’t be mixing completely unrelated bills together, just for political gain.

Shutting down the Government and Stalling legislation

Those working in congress have a pretty good salary and some really good benefits, so it kind of angers me when I see threats of a government shutdown, or I see one party stalling progress. For me, if my place of employment is doing something wrong, I can’t just get up and leave; I need the money to pay my bills. Yet these guys in Washington can skirt around the issues, or abandon them entirely, without much fear about what will happen to them (especially considering the pendulum effect). Now, don’t get me wrong, I admire when a senator or representative can stand up for the people in the face of heavy opposition. We want people who are going to fight for us. But, the solution isn’t to shut down the government. When there is heavy conflict, the solution is to sit down, talk it out and do the hard work to reach a consensus, not throw your hands up in the air and run out crying because the other side wouldn’t agree with you.

Conclusion

A lot of people focus all of the blame for the United States’ problems on the President. I will admit, in the past, I was the same way. The president is the figure head of our government; he’s the big guy (or girl) that has to answer to us when things go wrong, but all of us seem to have forgotten the system of checks and balances. The executive branch (the president and his staff) is only one third of the decision making process in our government. For me the truly broken branch in need of reform is the legislative branch (house and senate). But with U.S. citizens so focused on the president, I fear that the real reforms and changes that we need are being swept under the rug in favor of an increased sense of conflict, created for no other reason than ratings and political leverage.

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Comments 23 comments

HSchneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

Excellent and very thoughtful Hub. I agree that it seems that most of the actions and procedures of Congress seem to be used to accentuate party advantage. This holds true for both parties. You are also correct that third parties are very problematic because of this. Jesse Ventura found that out in Minnesota with no party to support him. It is a shame and a rigged system. I wish that both parties would act together more to solve our country's problems. Unfortunately the squeakier the wheel, the more votes one gets. We most definitely need a better system in Congress and our politics.


TeaPartyCrasher profile image

TeaPartyCrasher 5 years ago from Camp Hill, PA

Check out my hub 'A Third Way' for some potential solutions.

But great points!


Rusty C. Adore profile image

Rusty C. Adore 5 years ago from Michigan

Wow. Great hub. I actually learned so much from reading this!! Thank you. I agree that our system is very flawed. I just wish there was a way to fix it without so much fighting!


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

HSchneider - Thank you for the compliment! I think congress is able to get away with so much is because so few people focus on it. We need a greater awareness of who we are electing and what they are doing while they are there.

TeaPartyCrasher - Thanks for the suggestion and comment! I'll check out your article.

Rusty - I agree, the bickering right now is anything but appealing. Fighting isn't the answer, and yet that seems to be the only thing happening right now. Thanks for the comment!


Jeremey profile image

Jeremey 5 years ago from Arizona

Logical look at things is what you presented here.I was hoping to read a little about the PAC's and the new 'super PAC's'. Congress is without a doubt failing it's people.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

Jeremey - I really wanted to address the PAC's in this article, but I didn't know enough about them to confidently say anything. From what I understand they are a branch of the whole corporate cash flow thing. Now that they can spend unlimited amounts of money on candidates, they needed a 'front' where no one could trace it back to them, so they made these PAC's that anyone can donate to. I could be wrong about some of that, but they're definitely something to watch out for. Thanks for the comment!


Benjimester profile image

Benjimester 5 years ago from San Diego, California

I completely agree. Such wastes of both time and money. This is the exact reason why more and more I'm becoming a Libertarian. I get angry too whenever I hear about a government shutdown, unless that is, if they don't plan on reopening their doors.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

Benjimester - If there is one good thing that has come out of this, I would say it's that a lot more people are becoming educated about what their government is doing. Personally, I had no idea how much congress played a role in everything. It sounds like a no-brainer to say they play a big role, but when you consider the way the media portrays government, you'd think the president makes all of the decisions alone, which just isn't true. If the news organizations would actually start offering non-biased opinions about what is going on, rather than propaganda machines, we might have all learned about these faults a lot sooner. Thanks for the comment!


Fay Paxton 5 years ago

Kudos to you, M.T. for this excellent and thoughtful hub. I am amazed at how everyone holds the President accountable for everything that happens. Sometimes I think they never had a civics class...you just gave us one.

up/very useful


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

Fay Paxton - Thank you for the compliment! I think learning how our government works will help to make it better. Blaming everything on one person is just an excuse for not wanting thinking about it.


Digs 5 years ago

Governance is a morale exercise. There is no such thing as a government that doesn't convey a morale view. Support candidates that seek to limit the influence of money on our legislative process while emphasizing ethical and morale influences as proper guides. We can all debate points of view, but a government and a nation without a morale and ethical center to guide the process, is a ship without a rudder destined for the reef. I can hear the keel grinding on the reef now!

Appreciate your research and the information you provided. An electorate educated in democracy is essential. Without that, we are only kidding ourselves about being either free or a democratic government led by the people.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

Digs - The government definitely needs to follow a moral code (rather than corporate money). I mean, that's the core of it really; who do you stick up for, the citizens that are crying out for help, or those that can buy you that new sports car? Morals tell the politician what is right and we need more of that. Thanks for the comment!


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago

Voted up and useful - I think everything you say seems reasonable and I, like you, feel that the influence of corporations makes it a less perfect democracy.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

Sembj - Thank you for the compliment. There definitely seems to be a consensus among the people that corporations need to get out of Washington. But, I will admit, I have no idea how to accomplish it.


Arthur Bundy profile image

Arthur Bundy 4 years ago from Colorado Springs

May this comment find you well and your heart at peace.

I think the President is a good man, up against a system that refuses to be both accountable or responsible. I am going to start a petition drive in Colorado designed to establish national or federal mandates to be considered by the general population during the national presidential voting season. Mandates that require the President and Congress to act.

And, what I really want to see, is how much money in disinformation advertising that will generate from the lobbyists in Washington who have controlled Congress for the last several decades.

Art


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

Arthur Bundy - I would like to know how much money has gone into that as well. Dirty campaigning and lobbyists are some of the worst things to come into politics ever. Good for you, for starting a petition. We need to send a message to corporations that they can't buy elections anymore. Thanks for the comment!


Bludwiczak profile image

Bludwiczak 4 years ago from Western New York

This is a very good read that brings up some valid points. I especially like how you mention the filibuster - and how even the threat of a filibuster is enough to derail an attempt at passing legislation. It's overuse prevents a lot of good legislation from ever making it to the floor for a vote.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

Bludwiczak - It's true. The use of the filibuster has been so abused that many people, politicians included, have more-or-less counted out congress on being able to accomplish anything. You'd think they would want to reverse this negative image, and yet they seem perfectly content to let it happen. It's why I try to emphasize (to anyone who will listen) how important elections are for the house and senate (not just the presidential election). Thanks for the comment!


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago

A very interesting hub, voted up and Interesting, and shared.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 3 years ago from United States Author

Shyron E Shenko - Thank you for the comment and the share!


Arthur Bundy profile image

Arthur Bundy 3 years ago from Colorado Springs

21 months ago I commented on this hub. I had no idea that 21 months later I would have to admit that no petition drive was started. As I had no idea how tough my life was about to become.

I was looking to re-invent myself. I thought that maybe I should become a writer. I also had no idea how difficult that would be.

But, after all these long months I have come up with one good idea.

Mark Levin conservative radio pundit has written a new book called "The Liberty Amendments".

It is a digest of Corporate America's desire to take control of the federal government. This is the particular phrase that worries me the most.

Chapter 5, “Two Amendments to Limit Federal Spending & Taxing”. My focus is on his amendment on “Taxing”. This language is the key phrase to intent of this entire book. If this phrase were to be adopted into the Constitution, the intent of the Constitution and self-government would be officially dead.

"Section 1"..."Person" shall include natural and legal persons."

"Legal persons" in this context clearly refers to the corporation as person or corporate personhood. It has been established under case law pursuant to an ambiguity in the 14th Amendment, where the word "person" is not clearly defined as to what is meant by the term.

This Abraham Lincoln on this subject.

http://www.dojgov.net/Liberty Watch.htm

"I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me and the bankers in the rear.Of the two, the one at my rear is my greatest foe...corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money powers of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until wealth is aggregated in the hands of a few, and the Republic is destroyed."

My solution is simple. Amend the 14th Amendment to include the phrase..."Person defined under the law as a biological thinking and breathing entity, period".

This would have the effect of forcing the courts to focus on individual rights and erase 150 years worth of corporate law focused on making the corporation more powerful in our society than the individual.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 3 years ago from United States Author

Arthur Bundy - I completely agree that personhood needs to be defined, by law, as a single human being. Citizens United was one of the worst decisions ever made by the supreme court. Clarifying the definition of a person in the constitution would go a long way to stop a lot of abuse. Thanks for the comment!


Arthur Bundy profile image

Arthur Bundy 3 years ago from Colorado Springs

It's been a long time.

I had no idea how difficult it would be to get re-employed all this time.

Thank you for your confidence in my thought process.

As for Citizens United, I would say that it is consistent with the thought process that was used in Dred Scott, to identify slaves as property.

If "Legal Person", under it's present context becomes constitutional the individual will sooner or later be property of corporations.

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