Confidence in Congress fell to the lowest on record this summer, ten percent. Less than a decade ago about half of Americans approved of Congress, but today approval is barely in the teens.
The general American public disapproves of Congress, with little distinction across party lines. But is this disapproval unfair, because those of us who don’t hold elected office just don’t understand how hard governing is?
Well, according to governors, a group that knows a thing or two about elected office, Congress does provide cause for disapproval. Last week at the National Governor’s Association meeting, governors --in particular Republican governors -- stated their disapproval of the Republican’s threat to shut down the government.
And if anyone has a right to be frustrated with Congress it’s governors. Congress is on track for setting a record for the fewest number of bills passed. Our pressing political problems go unaddressed because partisan gridlock has paralyzed the Senate and House of Representatives. As such, the heavy lifting of governing falls to the local level. Let’s take immigration for example. The lack of federal level action has meant that states and cities have had to develop their own responses to the issue of immigration – whether it’s Arizona’s SB1070 or Maryland’s tuition assistance to undocumented students.
Day in and day out governors face the constituents who elected them and could also fire them. Members of Congress however are spending at least half of their time in the Beltway. Such geographical distance removes congressional leaders from real governing. It’s one thing to grandstand on the floor of the Senate, it’s another to figure out how to keep roads repaired, universities funded, and sick children cared for.
Recently, some Republicans in Congress have shown just how far removed they are from the realities of voters and non-federal lawmakers – a call to shut down the government so as to defund Obamacare. While Republican governors themselves are no fans of Obamacare, they are pragmatists and realize that shutting down the government would be disruptive and detrimental. Moreover it would be governors and local officials who would have to triage service shortfalls their residents would face.
Republican governors recognize that the existence of Obamacare is the lesser of two evils.
What is perhaps most frustrating to Republican governors is that those leading the charge to shut down the government – Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, and Senator Mike Lee – have never before held elected office, let alone at the local level. Without governing experience all of these leaders have to go on is theory, not practice. So while in the abstract the thought of shutting down the government sounds good, in practice it would be a disaster for those on the front lines of governing.
Even former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney chimed in about how shutting down the government is the wrong thing to do. Here is a man whose entire campaign was based on opposing Obamacare, yet he’s asking fellow Republicans to refrain from defunding it. But Romney at one time was also a governor, and he knows that Beltway politics can be blind to the realities of local governments.
Congress is already the least popular government institution. And if a government shutdown becomes a reality, then it will only gain more scorn. For the sake of those of us outside the beltway and the survival of a robust two-party system, let’s hope Congressional Republicans don’t step off the brink.
Victoria Defrancesco Soto
Friday, 9 August 2013