On Second Thought: The Good Guys Caucus
Last updated 5/20/2022 at 11:17am
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., recently quipped that it is amazing the Congressional approval rating ever rises to the height of 19 percent.
It is not good when only 19 percent of American voters trust Congress to do what needs doing. When people lose faith in government, they are likely to turn to some demagogue who promises to fix everything those weaklings in government are messing up. Unfortunately, authoritarian leaders (aka demagogues) have a history of making things even worse than the ineffectual governing bodies they supplant. It would be best if we could figure out why so many are so disappointed in Congress, and fix it, before a demagogue settles in.
One reason for the disappointment may be that it sometimes appears Congress is bent on passing out a lot of money to those who already have a lot of money. At the time of Sanders' sardonic observation on the low approval rating, the Senate was preparing to vote on $50 billion in subsidies for already very profitable corporations in the semi conductor business, and an extra $10 billion for Jeff Bezos' rocket trips as part of a China Competition bill. The final bill is also expected to include a research and development tax break worth $125 billion over four years because the 2017 tax reform act that cut corporate taxes from 35 to 21 percent wasn't generous enough. Or consider a provision in the House version of the now-paused Build Back Better legislation that would have raised the state and local tax deduction limit to $80,000, a kindness to the owners of multi-million dollar homes.
It's aggravating too if we notice when causes that propel roaring campaigns die with a squeal after Congress is in session. Whatever happened to Medicare for All? How about just some action to reign in pharmaceutical prices? In the past couple of years we've had shortages of everything from N95 face masks to steak to baby formula because one or two of the only plants providing something closed, or because nobody makes that here anymore. Maybe it's time for some NAFTA in reverse legislation, and new dose of anti-monopoly law.
Then we hear about all the time people in Congress spend, not passing laws to fix our problems, but chatting with potential donors who might help with their own problem — the next election. Of course, if tempted to envy that kind of personal attention, we need to remember the member of Congress has no reason to call us since Congress has already passed our tax money on to the corporations whose CEOs are now hearing our representative or senator request a campaign donation. Next we find out that in their spare time after writing the bills that make the tax money scoot to one pocket of the economy or another, a lot of people in Congress enjoy playing the stock market.
Since too much money sloshing around shows up in so many complaints about Congress, removing some might be a good place to start fixing. Campaign finance reform provisions in the Democrats For the People Act could have helped, but that legislation ran aground on Senate Republican opposition, the filibuster and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., last year. The odds are, barring a turnaround in the current session, that kind of legislation won't be back in Congress soon.
If Congress is not productive, one state at a time may be the best alternative. Unfortunately, those interested in state campaign finance initiatives will be discouraged to learn that the Supreme Court wiped out state laws intended to limit the impact of money on elections a dozen years ago. When Montana, a state that had suffered through a time when Copper Barons decided everything, challenged the decision, the Court ruled that the state's law barring corporate cash in politics clearly violated the Money is Free to Talk as Much as It Wants principles of Citizens United.
Luckily for those in Congress who want to boost the institution's image right now, there is another way: join the Good Guys Caucus. As it happens, members of Congress may join with like minded others in any of a long list of organizations or “caucuses”: the Conservative Opportunity Society Caucus and the Progressive Caucus, the Candy Caucus and the Chicken Caucus, the Algae Caucus and one for Bourbon. Why shouldn't there be a Caucus for the Good Guys too?
Membership in the Good Guys Caucus is open to all representatives and senators who pledge never to take another campaign contribution over $100, to forswear all PACs (political action campaigns), and to call your mother instead of a corporate head or billionaire when in the mood for a good talk. Members, of course, agree that neither they nor their significant others will engage in active stock trading, and that any of their offspring who attempt to exploit the member's standing for financial gain will be required to write letters to the editor promising, “I will not say Daddy's (Mommy's) name to get rich.”
As membership in the Good Guys Caucus grows, public confidence that Congress is fully committed to the public interest will grow with it. Inevitably, in time even the demarcations of party affiliation will fade as the only question in every election becomes, “Which candidate is the Good Guy?”
In the meantime, several bills to ban stock trading by members of Congress, and perhaps their spouses appeared a few months ago after revelations about just how much money some members,who are supposed to make the rules for Wall Street, are making on Wall Street. It won't raise the Congressional approval rating to 100 percent, but passing that legislation will be a good start.
Will Rawn of Havre is a retired Montana State University-Northern professor.