Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.
Members of Congress get categorized in all sorts of ways. They’re liberal or conservative; Republican or Democrat; interested in domestic affairs or specialists in foreign policy.
I spend a fair amount of time talking to students and other young people about Congress and politics in general, and I’ve noticed something. It used to be that I’d regularly get asked how one runs for office. Nowadays, I rarely do.
A few weeks ago, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia made a small splash in the press when he took Congress to task for failing to authorize our nation’s ongoing war against Islamic militants. “The silence of Congress in the midst of this war is cowardly and shameful,” he said. “[T]his Congress, the very body that is so quick to argue against President Obama’s use of executive power... allows an executive war to go on undeclared, unapproved, undefined and unchecked.”
There have been encouraging signs on Capitol Hill of late that Congress’s long slide into irrelevance may be slowing.
I’ve seen a lot over my decades in politics, and not much alarms me. But I have to be blunt: Money is poisoning our political system.
I have been involved in politics and policy-making for over 50 years, and as you can imagine I hold strong feelings about reporters and the media. They’re not what you might think, however.
Congress has developed a fondness for open letters when it comes to Iran. First came the warning shot signed by 47 Republican senators that touched off a storm of criticism. Not to be outdone, the House checked in with its own bipartisan and more diplomatically stated letter to the President, warning that its members must be satisfied with any agreement before they’ll vote to reduce sanctions.
After Congress came a hair’s breadth from shutting down the Department of Homeland Security a few weeks ago, members of the leadership tried to reassure the American people. “We’re certainly not going to shut down the government or default on the national debt,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Congress, he said, would not lurch from crisis to crisis.
The question usually comes toward the end of a public meeting. Some knotty problem is being discussed, and someone in the audience will raise his or her hand and ask, “Okay, so what can I do about it?”
It may not be obvious from the news coverage, but a good bit of Congress’s 2015 agenda just landed on Capitol Hill with a thud. I mean this literally. The federal budget that President Obama recently submitted runs to 2,000 pages.