Of the four or five regular magazines and newspapers read on Capitol Hill every day, Politico is probably the least policy-focused, and the one that places the most value on entertainment and drama. However, sometimes that reporting focuses on the biggest drama in Washington – elections – and a new article on Politico’s website outlines an important yet subtle distinction between actions on Capitol Hill designed to do what’s actually good for the country and what’s good for the Member’s re-election campaign.
Here are a few examples highlighted by Politico:
Rep. Michael Grimm of New York is pushing a resolution of support for peace in Sri Lanka. And Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois has scored two legislative victories: one bill to rein in lavish, taxpayer-funded conferences and another that aims to help travelers by loosening restrictions on checked baggage….
Though Washington is staring down a number of critical policy issues this year — not least of which the so-called fiscal cliff — much of its agenda is consumed by hard-to-refuse bills that lawmakers can tout back home.
Most of the article continues like this, and those who follow the above link will notice it focuses on House Republicans. While this could be seen as media bias, the House is where more legislation is passed than in the Senate and where Republicans are clearly the dominant – and thus the more vulnerable – party. But the Senate plays this game as well:
The House isn’t alone in showcasing its vulnerable members. One of the main items on the Senate’s agenda this week is a bill aimed at helping veterans find jobs. That’s sponsored by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, up for reelection against Republican Rep. Connie Mack in the perennial swing state of Florida this fall.
Now, to be fair, some of the bills Politico highlighted are good for the country. But passed this late in the session, with only a little over two legislative work weeks left before the November elections and the “fiscal cliff?” The passage of these bills is somewhat reminiscent of the infamous government agencies that buy a lot of material at the end of the government’s fiscal year, or the scientific centers that suddenly come out with grand theories on the world at the end of the fiscal year, both done in order to not lose funding in the next fiscal year.
Of course, cover is provided by the House leadership for these bills. However, note the section that has been bolded for this post:
A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who runs the floor, said his office evaluates what bills to schedule based on their merits.
“It’s not unusual for there to be a larger number of bills considered before the end of the fiscal year or before the extended district work period preceding a lame duck,” Doug Heye, Cantor’s deputy chief of staff, wrote in an email.
In other words, when it’s really important to be noticed by the electorate, you can count on Members to take advantage.
One additional note: often Members introduce legislation that has no chance of passing, or is duplicative, just to impress constituents. One example of this is H.R. 787, the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act of 2011. Despite the important-sounding name, the fact is that no Social Security is allowed to go to illegal immigrants, so this legislation is truly useless – or worse than useless, since staffers had to create it, print it, and introduce it, meaning it cost taxpayers some small measure of their tax dollars.
What do you think? Should Members of Congress be trying to pass bills that may possess some benefit for the country just for re-election purposes? Or could that be a violation of federal law, which states that Members are to explicitly keep election and official work separate? Let us know in the comments.