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We canít wait much longer to fix Congress


Fri, Dec 9th, 2005
Posted in Commentary

I am a great fan of Congress. It is, to my mind, the American institution that best represents our democracy and guards our freedoms.Without it, there is no way for our nation to guarantee freedom, ensure that the passions of the moment are cooled in deliberate debate, or check the power of the President.So I am distressed to say that at the moment, I am not a fan of how Congress operates, or fails to operate. Indeed, there are now so many serious issues that have been allowed to spiral out of control and so many problems going unresolved that Congress, as an institution, is in deep trouble.In particular, I believe that:Congress has allowed the budget to get out of control.It has become far too responsive to narrow special interests.It has refused to deal effectively with the fragility of our electoral process.It is exceptionally polarized.Fairness in the legislative process has broken down.It has refused to look seriously at reshaping itself to deal with the nationís current challenges.Its members spend too much of their week campaigning, and not enough time doing the hard work of governing.And finally, it has ceded its war powers to the President.All of this has hurt Congress, to the point where people who care about it now openly debate whether it can pull out of its alarming tailspin.So what should our response be? Should we just give up on the institution? Of course not. We need to become more engaged, more involved, more insistent that Congress measure up to its constitutional responsibilities.Congress is at heart a resilient, self-correcting institution that is responsive to the clearly expressed will of the people. I know it can do better, and if prodded enough, it will. As citizens, we always have a responsibility to become involved in the work of Congress, but never more so than when we think it has gotten off track.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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