This election season there is no lack of voting cues. America is upset for a number of reasons – the persistently sluggish economy, profligate government spending, and an overreaching healthcare bill among them. But when you strip away the voter anger the uniting thread seems to be that people no longer trust Washington.
When it comes to the economy they see money being funneled to pet projects and friendly labor unions rather than toward true job creators. When it comes to government spending they see their lawmakers spending tons of money in hopes of buying votes, regardless of its long-term consequences. When it comes to the healthcare bill they see an administration that promises them one thing, but myriad reports that show them the law will do another.
They sit and wonder what happen to the promise that this would be the most open and transparent administration in history.
This is all reflected in a Gallup poll released this week which finds that a record low 36 percent of Americans trust the legislative branch of government. This is 9 percent lower than the previous record low set last year. Of course the other branches haven’t fared much better. Each has seen a downward trend in the past 7 years.
Republicans’ sense such restlessness and have made reforming Congress and restoring trust a key, and in my estimation most important, part of their Pledge to America.
I can hear the catcalls coming in from the back – “the Republicans are just as untrustworthy” and “why should we believe them.” That Republicans lost their way is even included in the Pledge which says, “the House of Representatives must operate differently – differently from the way Democrats do now, and differently from the way Republicans did in the past .”
Nevertheless, the answers to these questions are frightening because they require a degree of faith that hasn’t been rewarded in the past. Nevertheless, we’re seeing a new dawn of conservatism. In the past few years there has been an unnecessary rift between conservatism and the Republican brand.
In some sense, the landslide election of President Obama and Congressional Democrats in 2007, was a fortunate experience for Republicans. They were purified by their losses and reinvigorated by the disastrous consequences of Democratic control. Republicans, or should I say conservatives, are back. They are filled with fresh faces, emboldened with new ideas, and united behind a commitment to changing the course we are on.
But does their governing document live up to the promise of their movement?
In many ways, yes. And the power of their ideas lie in their simplicity.
Read the Bill – Obvious enough. But Americans would be shocked at how rarely it is done. Take for instance Max Baucus (D-MT), one of the authors of the healthcare bill, who said during the debate, “I don’t think you want me to waste my time to read every passage of the healthcare bill.” Or Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) who said , “I don’t expect to actually read the legislative language because [it] is among the more confusing things I’ve ever read in my life.”
Bills are notoriously difficult to read and are growing in length. Nevertheless, Congress should at least be given the time to comprehend the legislation before they are forced to vote on it. That is why Republicans proposal to publish the text of bills for three days before voting is a simple, yet necessary, procedure.
Adhere to the Constitution – Another “do we really have to do this” proposal. Yes, adhering to the Constitution is not only utter common sense, it is actually mandated by the Constitution. Nevertheless, our foundational document is growing faster than our national deficit. Washington has become prone to stretching the meaning of the Constitution in clever, if disingenuous, ways to allow them to do what they want. That is why Republicans’ Pledge forces authors to cite the Constitutional authority for their legislation.
If they’re going to expand the meaning of the Constitution let them at least explain it so as to inform the people how much we are diluting its meaning. As famed Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” By forcing transparency in our legislation we may find that we soon return to the proper bounds of Constitutional law.
Make it Easier to Cut Spending – Lowering spending will be necessary if we want to remain a viable economic power. Sadly, our legislative process makes cutting spending next to impossible. By allowing amendments on spending bills, the Republican Pledge provides the opportunity to slash wasteful government expenditures and programs.
Advance Legislative Issues One at a Time – The legislative process has become a joke. And a bad one at that. Just last week the Senate voted on a defense authorizations bill that contained an immigration provision that would grant citizenship to aliens that would graduate from college. Regardless of whether it was a good idea, it had very little to do with the underlying purpose of the legislation – to provide a budget for the Department of Defense.
This is the norm for Washington. In an attempt to gain votes for passage they tack questionable amendments onto popular bills in hopes of gaining support. Republicans’ Pledge promises to end this “packaging” and advance issues one at a time. This ensures that ideas actually enjoy wide support among legislators and allows citizens to better track where their Congressmen stand.
Admittedly some of these proposals are a play toward theatrics. Some of the proposals are more common sense than reform. Then again, a return to common sense may be the greatest reform movement this country has seen in a long time. And that is exactly what Republicans’ Pledge to restore trust is all about.
by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee