When we toured the Capitol the other day, we sat in on Senate and House sessions for a few minutes. There were maybe five Congresspeople in each chamber. This is actually very common. They just go and read a statement to someone who transcribes it. And every now and then people convene to take votes.
And, as is well-known, the Democrats sit on the left, and the Republicans sit on the right.
Today’s newspaper had an oddly comical bit about a senator who insisted on reading the full text of a 490-page bill to “punish” Democrats for some past action; I don’t even remember what.
All of these things combine to confirm something I’ve thought for a long time: Congress is fundamentally broken. One of the great things about having a two-party system is that they keep each other in check. Republicans and Democrats come up with bad ideas, but the other party is watchful and keeps those bad ideas from coming to fruition. That much is good.
The problem is that the whole thing is set up as an “us against them” system. A Democrat idea is a bad idea to the Republicans, and a Republican bill is a bad bill to the Democrats. When the Democrats introduced an expanded GI Bill, the Republicans opposed it until recently, over petty squabbles with one of its provisions. (This happens with Democrats opposing good Republican bills too, I just don’t have any examples fresh in my mind right now.)
The problem is that one side comes up with a bill and puts it up for the other side to shoot down. I’d much rather that both sides met to collective work towards something. And that everyone showed up in Congress. Have a Democrat get up and say, “Returning veterans aren’t getting the care they deserve as our heros,” and have both sides work to outline a proposal. Because both sides want that legislation on the books. Each side can put forth its concerns about the implementation—we don’t want to give “new” members of the military incentive to leave right away, for example. And then, instead of it looking like Republicans are trying to block the bill, the Democrats would say, “Oh, good point,” and we’d collectively work on it.
Of course this is a Utopian view, and the system would never work that way. But I really don’t think having the two parties opposing each other’s moves 100% of the time is the way to do things, and I really don’t think having Senators and Representatives miss 90% of Capitol proceedings is the way to go, either.