February 28, 2024

Opinion: Wanted: Endangered Competent Congressional Act of 2024

By Steve Corbin

As an every three week op-ed contributor to newspapers in 39 states, I read a lot of various and sundry topics, seeking an opportunity to start crafting a research-based message that might be of interest to readers.

A while back I read 2023 marked the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Next, a friend referred me to read an article published 10 years ago (Aug. 19, 2013) titled “There ought to be a law against an `incompetent’ Congress” (Diane Dimond, HuffPost Contributor).

After reflecting on these two topics — endangered species and incompetent Congress — a little humor entered the noggin, research ensued and a serious column came to fruition. Let me explain.

The ESA has saved 99 percent of our 2,300 endangered wildlife species and their habitats (e.g., bald eagle, peregrine falcon, gray wolf, etc.). The last time Congress reauthorized ESA funding was in 1992. But, reauthorization would require a competent Congress to take action. As per William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “ay, there’s the rub!”

Despite rising polarization in Congress, researchers with the Center for Effective Lawmaking found, in longitudinal studies, legislative effectiveness is heightened when bipartisanship exists. Historians reveal we’ve had many competent Congressional delegates touted for their bipartisanship, including Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Robert La Follette, Robert Taft, Ted Kennedy, Margaret Chase Smith, Nancy Kassebaum, William Proxmire, Henry Cabot Lodge, Sam Rayburn — saving the best for last — John McCain and Tip O’Neill.

Truly bipartisan Congressional delegates are becoming extinct. It’s time for citizens to petition government to enact the “Endangered Competent Congressional Act of 2024.” But, we’d need a competent House, Senate and president to take action; we’ve not witnessed such a breed in decades.

A June 2013 Gallup survey found only 10 percent of their respondents felt satisfied with Congress’ performance. How’s Congress performing 10 years later? During the Sept. 1-23, 2023 time period, Gallup found only 2 percent of Americans had trust and confidence in Congress. Two percent!

How bad is Congress? Here are some December, 2023 headlines that sum it up: 1) America and the terrible, horrible, no good very bad Congress (Fox News), 2) Worst Congress ever? (The Fiscal Times), 3) Farewell to one of the dumbest years in Congressional history (Politico), 4) Worst. Congress. Ever. (Washington Post), 5) Capitol Hill stunner: 2023 led to fewest laws in decades (Axios), 6) A look back at how awful politics was in 2023 (Wall Street Journal) and 7) This horrible Congress is even worse than you thought (New Republic).

Ten years ago Ms. Dimond noted the average salary for most members of Congress was $174,000 per year plus each elected delegate received over $1.3 million per year as an allowance. She said, “Now, let’s multiply that by the 535 members of lackluster, partisan-paralyzed Congress and you get a grand total that tops $818 million. So, what do you think? You think we’re getting our almost billion dollars’ worth of leadership? Yeah, me neither.”

Today, Congressional salaries and allowances amount to $975,540,000 (Congressional Research Service, Sept. 19, 2023). The average American works 240 days a year; the House was scheduled to meet for 117 days in 2023 while Senators worked 154 days.

To regain trust and confidence in our delegates to D.C., plus force them to work together on behalf of you and me their constituents (hey, that’s a novel idea) and create a more effective Congress, re-electing bipartisan Congressional delegates and de-hiring the bottom of the barrel is in order.

Check out the nonpartisan Lugar Center – McCourt School Bipartisan Index (https://mccourt.georgetown.edu/news/bipartisan). Bipartisanship scores for members of the Senate and House are listed in rank as well as alphabetical order. Reflect on the ranking of your two Senators and House Representative plus the lowest ranking legislators in both chambers.

Not surprisingly, Congressional delegates in the top tier of both chambers’ bipartisanship rankings are about equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. Names of the least bipartisan will be quite familiar; extremists, rabble rousers and whiners to a fault.

Before the Nov. 5 election, let’s purposely campaign to get rid of 20 percent of the bottom-feeder and least cooperating members of Congress – regardless of their party affiliation. They’ve proven they can’t or won’t work across the aisle. Party-before-people and after-me-you-come-first are their mantras.

If we cleaned-the-deck of Congressional bottom-feeders, politicians and party leaders would quickly get the message. Bipartisanship would ensue to restore an effective and productive legislative body.

Are you with me or against me in having a more functional and productive Congress? You get to decide on Nov. 5.

Contact Steve Corbin at Steven.B.Corbin@gmail.com