Congress is Broken

courtsBy Lee Cabacungan

Congress is one of the oldest political institutions in the United States, one that was designed to be as balanced as possible in order to fulfill the needs of the people.  However, over the years, it has become, in a sense, broken.  It is because of this balance in congress that it has become inefficient, with opinions on many issues being split almost entirely down the middle leading to deadlock and extended discussions and arguments for, or against issues that should be helping the people of the United States.  Congressmen and women seem to forget that their prime duty in congress is to serve the will of the people and instead do what they feel is right to keep themselves in power.  It is a broken system and needs to be reformed from the ground up.

According to polls, the citizenry of the United States has an overwhelming disapproval of Congress.  Congress has had a consistent disapproval rating of over sixty percent.  This disapproval rating shows how dissatisfied the people are with their representatives.  The same people that voted them into office are the same people dissatisfied with their performance.  In fact, approval ratings for Congress are at the lowest in the past thirty years.  This seems that, despite running for office on platforms that the people truly care about, once in office, the men and women who are elected pursue their own agenda.  They will do what it takes to get elected, and whatever they can to stay in power.

The minimum salary for a member of congress is 174,000 USD.  This is the minimum that members get paid.  Leadership in Congress gets a larger salary, with the Speaker of the House getting a 223,500 USD salary, and the Majority and Minority Leaders of the House and Senate each making 193,400 USD.  These are huge numbers, while some may view this as acceptable to pay the people that help make decisions for the country, it is a sum that is far to large to keep members honest.  One of the basic tenets of economics is that people respond to incentives, and the incentive of a 174,000 salary is enough to make a person do whatever it takes to hold on to that.  A salary so large should not be the main draw of Congress.  It should be the desire to make a difference in the lives of the people.  This is something that members of Congress seem to forget sometimes.

One issue that seems to come up much more often than it should, is the issue of Congress taking breaks when much work to be done.  The most recent was reported August 5th, when it was reported that Congress would be taking a five week recess for summer.  While it is important that members of Congress get time off, public opinion says that roughly eighty-two percent of voters think that Congress does not deserve a break.  In fact, the current Congress is on track to be the least productive in modern time.  Congress has signed a mere fifteen bills into law this year, and yet, still decides to take a five week break instead of helping to fix the problems that plague the country.  Yes, the members of Congress are people that deserve breaks as well as the next person, but not while there is still much work to be done.  If the average person stays late to finish work, then so should the leadership of the country.

There are many efforts being done to reform Congress as it is.  Congressman Reid Ribble (R-WI) has posted on his website a list of reforms that he would like to see enacted.  There is also a petition calling for the senate to reform Congress ( showing that the average citizen wants reform as well.  While there is work being done to reform Congress, in regards to the above issues that have been discussed there is much that can be done.  Establishing term limits would be an excellent way to curb abuses of power, and ensure that members of Congress maintain the wishes of their districts.  This is already being pushed for by Congressman Ribble, and some of his colleagues.  In regards to the salaries of Congress members, Ribble also pushes for an end to Federal Pensions for members of Congress.  While it does not affect the salary of members, it does ensure that members are paid only while they are in office, something that would make a large difference when combined with limiting terms as Ribble proposes.  Lastly, Ribble is proposing that Congress actually finishes their work.  From his website, “The No Budget, No Pay (H.R. 3643) would require Congress to pass an annual budget and appropriations bills by October 1 each year for members to be paid.”  This is huge, and would ensure that Congress does its job in regards to the budget, because again, people respond to incentives, which goes both ways.  These three reforms proposed by Congressman Ribble would make a drastic change in the way Congress operates, and shows that while Congress as a whole may be broken, there are those that are willing to try and fix it.

Congress is indeed broken.  Abysmal approval ratings, overly large salaries, and unnecessary breaks on the part of members has shattered the public’s view of one of the oldest institutions of this country. Congress was designed to enact the will of the people and for the most part, has been failing.  This is not to say that there is no one to push for reform.  Congressman Ribble is one of those pushing for reform.  As he says, “In order to truly reform Congress and regain America’s trust, Congress must make institutional changes to the way it operates.”  That is what has been lost over the years, trust.  With Ribble’s help, and by listening to the voice of the public, Congress may indeed be able to get that trust back.


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