Gov Career

By Phil Piemonte

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Congress in recess: The calm before the storm

You've heard it before:  "I don't know about art, but I know what I like."

And, in fact, most people probably don't know about art. But they do know what they like. The problem with lay art lovers is that sometimes what they do like is not art.

Which brings us to the topic at hand: Freshman members of Congress—the Class of 2015.

As federal employees are well aware, a whole passel of these folks will be piling into the nation's capital this month, and if they keep their campaign promises, things could get exciting. That's because a good number of them got elected by promising to "shake things up" in Washington.

Of course, politicians often rely on a handful of messages to push the buttons that turn voters on. Some base their campaigns on nothing more than being anti-Washington. (Which they hate so much that they can't wait to get here.)

One example of the "shake up" approach, which the national media picked up on, involved the incoming Republican senator from Iowa, Joni Ernst, who after a reference to pig castration promised to "make them squeal" in Washington. It's anyone's guess whether or not that helped propel her into office, but she won.

Plenty of other pols across the country took a similar no-holds-barred approach.

But making waves is not the same thing as making policy. That is, candidates may know what they like (and what works) on the campaign trail, and that's fine, as long as they also know something about the real art of politics—the art that allows them to successfully craft public policy.

Without question, there has always been a certain amount of bluster in American campaign politics. But somewhere over the last couple of decades, many upcoming politicians have grown less willing or able—once they cross the D.C. line—to abandon the bluster and begin the serious business of creating—and actually passing—effective legislation.

Candidates may promise to "stand firm" on whatever principles they tout on the campaign trail, but refusing to budge after they've been sworn into office in Washington defeats the role lawmakers are supposed to play in the legislative process—which is all about compromise.

When elected legislators refuse to compromise, what you get is what voters have gotten for the past two years: One of the least productive Congresses in modern history (just barely edged out by the prior one).

You want to talk about wasted federal funds? Add up all those taxpayer-funded legislative-branch salaries and congressional operating expenses, divide that sum by the number of bills the 113th Congress sent to the president's desk over the past two years (296, minus several dozen bills that simply renamed post offices), and see what you get. The cost per bill is bound to be staggering.

To put the cost in perspective for the Average Joe, this last Congress was sort of like taking a two-year trip overseas, while at the same time making mortgage payments on an empty house and leaving all the lights and heat turned on while you were gone. Oh, and you left the water running, too. And all you have to show for it after two years is a handful of souvenirs, most of which are worth far less than you paid for them.

Of course, a lack of productivity doesn't mean Congress had no effect on the federal government over the past two years, at least as far as the federal workforce is concerned. It withheld a federal pay raise, forced agencies to furlough employees, and shut down the federal government. All without doing a thing.

Luckily, the 113th Congress is fading into history (which will be pretty easy), and the nation can heave a sigh of relief.

So hope you had yourself a merry little Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa.

Because the freshman class of 2015 is on its way.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Jan 05, 2015 at 7:19 AM

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