Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why is Congress Failing America?

Why is Congress so dysfunctional that it cannot even fund FEMA to cover the costs of natural disasters such as Hurricanes IRENE and LEE?

As pointed out in this recent NY Times editorial, the situation is just ridiculous. How can America succeed in creating growth and jobs when compromise becomes a dirty word, when working across the aisle for the greater good of the American general public is considered almost an act of treason?

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The root problem is how we design Congressional districts. Until we change how we carve up districts gridlock will get even worse and America will fail to win the future. Right now we aren't even winning the present!

Congress couldn't agree on solution today if a Tsunami was bearing down on Capitol Hill. In fact, an economic Tsunami has swept over the country after a decade of "borrow and spend" -- and yet there is no agreement on how to fix it and generate jobs for 14 million unemployed. How did we get in this mess?

Redistricting is the culprit. Specifically, gerrymandering districts into "safe" R or D districts did it.

Congressional districts are supposed to be "compact.' However redistricting via computers makes it easy to create strangely shaped districts that are "safe" for one or the other party. In a "safe" district the winner is not one of the two candidates chosen by voters in November; it is the winner of the party primary chosen by a small group of partisans.

Instead of being “compact” Congressional (and state) districts now look like the Loch Ness monster or pizza slices where a city like Austin, Texas -- normally a safe Democrat area -- is split into four or five districts that allow the GOP to win instead. The same "pizza" plan has split up Salt Lake City the same way.

For example in Texas, whoever wins the Republican primary in March in a safe GOP district like CD 22 will automatically win the election in November, regardless of who the Democrat is. In a "safe" Democrat district like Sheila Jackson Lee’s, it's the same result - whoever wins the Democrat party primary race will automatically win in November regardless who is the GOP candidate.

In short the November voters are too late to the party - the choice has already been made back in March. The November vote is meaningless unless it is for a state-wide seat or a Presidential pick. The more moderate November voters (be they Republican or Democrat) have been disenfranchised. In short, the vast majority of voters have been screwed out of their vote.

Therefore the "real" electoral race is the party primary race, where a small group of partisans make the choice that everyone else has to live with in November. “Safe” members of Congress can do what they want without fear of losing an election – as long as they appease the hyper- partisan primary voters! Compromise be damned!

And how do candidates win in a primary race? By running "left of left" in a Democrat district and "right of right" in a GOP district. The Republican primary challenger claims to be "more conservative than the incumbent." The Democrat primary candidates claim to be "more progressive." The result is that the winner is the more extreme -- people like Tom DeLay on one side or Dennis Kucinich on the other side, who are less likely to be willing to work across the aisle.

Like the Taliban, the members of Congress that are hanging off the wing tip on either side would rather walk on burning coals then negotiate. The 87 new GOP "tea party" members elected in 2010 are a good example. They are the ones who fought the raising the debt ceiling that lead to a first-ever U.S. debt downgrade by S&P. The result is the gridlock to the point that even funding FEMA after a natural disaster becomes a strain like climbing Mt. Everest.

In the past a President Reagan would have a drink after work with the Democrat leader Tip O'Neill - and they'd cut a deal on whatever the pressing issues were. Not today.

If doing what should be simple and routine is not possible, then how can America address the much larger issues we face with representatives in Congress who would rather throw rocks at the other side than sit down and work out solutions?

Until we fix the root of the problem and eliminate all "safe" Democrat or Republican districts -- this problem will not go away, but will get worse. Congress will fiddle while America burns.

We need a system where the moderate November voters will finally get to choose their next representative - people who are more like the moderate majority of Americans who can work across the aisle for the greater American good. In Iowa, redistricting is done by citizens, not political partisans. Why not make that the norm?

If we don't make this change now, we face another decade of Congressional paralysis that could put America where the Titanic now rests.

If you want your vote to mean something, pass this on to your friends and demand a change so your vote will count in November. Only then will American representatives have to listen to a majority of the voters instead of their small band of primary voters. Only then will Congress get back to the compromises needed to fix our problems and win the American future.

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