In the eyes of many Americans, congress is nothing but a big, confusing joke. Whether you are completely new to the idea of legislation, or know the facts like the back of your own hand, you may have heard some arguments about why the American congress works so slowly. Mostly, we know why this happens. Our congressmen are literal monkeys. No, not really. The main job of congress as a whole is to make bills (ideas for laws) into actual laws. There is an extremely complicated process for doing so, with layers and layers of committees, voting, vetoing, and debate. (If you aren’t already familiar with these terms or you would like to know more, I am including the link to a helpful article about the congressional system below.)
So, after all that, what we really want to know is: “Is all this voting, vetoing, and debate a problem? Or, is it protecting our country in a way that is even deeper than it looks?”
But, before we start exploring America’s response to this puzzling question, close your eyes, and imagine a very tall wall. Imagine you’ve never seen the other side. Done? Great! Keep that picture in your head as you read on.
In 2013, says an article on gallup.com, 78% of Americans stated their disapproval of congress and it’s decisions. When asked about the reasons for this conclusion, 59% answered that they were unhappy with the “gridlock” in congress, and wished that less bickering would occur. In addition to this, The Center on Congress at Indiana University published a list of the top 15 complaints about congress. #4 was: “Members just bicker and don’t get anything done,” and #13 stated: “The legislative system is too complicated!” While looking at these everyday concerns from a more political standpoint, we can see the roots of the problem.
We’ll start with the bickering and why it happens. Lobbyists play a huge part in making sure that members of congress don’t get along, by donating gifts, campaign money, and helpful information to anybody who will take it. In return, these wealthy people and interest groups are getting their opinions heard and voted for out on the floor. But, there are a lot of opinions, if you consider that each congressperson may be representing an individual organization or cause! Additionally, congress is all about re-election. Representatives want popular support from their state and plenty of media coverage, so often they are willing to say things that are quotable and memorable even if they aren’t the full truth. This oversimplifies debates and leaves us wondering: “What are we actually supporting?”
Now a bit about the legislative system itself. Parties have been involved in congress almost since congress was a thing. Not birthday parties, political parties. There is a lot of evidence that these are not quite as fun, and have gotten way out of hand. It is has become important to please the members of your political party, especially the speaker or committee chairs, because if you do it’s easier to get benefits and become likable with everybody, thus getting re-elected! (Do you think there’s maybe a pattern here?) Additionally, some Americans argue that because of our divided government (with power split between the legislative and executive branches), progress is slow due to lack of compromise. Even if every member of congress agreed on a bill (which would probably never happen anyway), the president can still refuse to sign it. This is an especially large problem when the president is republican and the democrats have a majority in congress, or vice-versa. The two parties go head to head on many issues and it takes forever to pass anything of real significance.
On the other hand, Maybe congress and its processes aren’t all that bad.
Now that we’ve heard the voices of millions of Americans, who think congress is broken and can be fixed, let’s take a look at the other side of this popular debate.
The founding fathers of the United States took some important safety measures, in order to protect the nation from shallow decisions. Some of these safety measures are principles mentioned in the last few paragraphs to be making congress slow and inefficient. Don’t get me wrong, there some unhealthy things going on on capital hill, but we may have overlooked more meaning in these procedures than we thought. Take re-election for instance. The first congress was not in session too long after we broke away from England, and became our own democracy. A reason many colonists protested against Britain was because it was ruled by a king, who reigned until the day of his death, and then the throne was taken over by his children. A government like this isn’t going to spend a great deal of time on re-election but they are going to make a lot of the same kinds of decisions over and over again. If these decisions are not well thought out, this government can suffer. To make sure that our laws are just and keep everybody’s best interest in mind, we require that almost every position in the government (especially congressmen) be re-elected. No one wants a congress full of people who don’t represent us and are stuck there for the rest of their lives.
Checks and balances are another precaution that we may not see at first glance. Although it requires patience on our part, by giving branches of government power to stop one another, we keep officials from doing anything rash or without permission.
The list of these political nets goes on and on, including the bi-cameral congress (meaning bills have to pass the house and the senate), Committees, Majority votes, filibusters… I’m not going to keep you here all day. But all the things we listed make sure that all ideas are carefully discussed. The congressional plan has been designed by our founders with wisdom and skill to keep us same from harm and perhaps even tyranny as well.
Do you still remember the wall you have pictured? Come back to the spot where you stood before. One thing has changed, however. A ladder is leaning against the wall. You decide to climb it. When you reach the top, you find you can see over the edge, and there stands a cliff leading down the the jagged ocean below. Have you found the analogy yet?
In my opinion, congress was created in such a way that it is a method of protection, like mentioned before. Even if you have come to the opposite conclusion, the wall still works. There are ways to reach the ocean, the goal of efficiency, from narrow staircases across the cliffs and repelling down the rocks. Whatever you see, you can personally do something and be the change you want. I see a American future full of hope and progress appearing on the horizon, but I’m going to need your help.
Let me know down in the comments what you think about this subject. I really enjoyed researching and thinking about it, and I am so grateful for your time! Just, remember to be kind in regards to the views of others. Also, if you have any thoughts about what you want to see from me in the future, tell me, please! I am always looking for inspiration and I want these to be interesting for you too.