Usually, Americans like their own members of Congress but greatly dislike Congress as an institution. However, recent national polling shows more voters are blaming their own congressmen for Washington’s poor performance.
Are Utahns starting to blame Utah’s congressional delegation — Orrin Hatch, Mike Lee, Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz, Chris Stewart, Jim Matheson and Jason Chaffetz — for gridlock and dysfunction in Congress?
(Pignanelli) "Congress is so strange. A man gets up to speak and says nothing. Nobody listens — and then everybody disagrees.” — Boris Marshalov
To provide proper perspective, I frequently compare Washington, D.C., antics to the Ebola virus. Recent polls again determine Americans are more frightened of the federal government than with the horrible disease now on our shores.
Ebola is extremely infectious as a very small dosage can cause illness, with symptoms of weakness, nausea, body aches, chest pain, difficulty breathing and overall agony. Similar conditions often result when a rational human views congressional shenanigans. Admittedly, the African pestilence has a higher fatality rate then politics. But veteran politicos often remark how the nation’s capital can suck the life, and strangle the soul, of its victims.
Utahns' frustration with Congress exceeds that of their fellow Americans. But Utah's congressional delegation is neither mean-spirited nor consistently foolish — conduct Utahns will not tolerate in their officials. Therefore, the incumbents are avoiding the blame many of their colleagues are now suffering.
(Webb) The good news is that congressional gridlock prevents the Obama administration from passing a lot of new, ill-advised programs that increase the size and spending of the federal government. The bad news is that congressional gridlock means the nation’s biggest problems — the federal debt, entitlement programs, energy policy, immigration policy, transportation infrastructure and pro-growth tax reform — aren’t being addressed. Big-issue, problem-solving legislation has no chance of passing in today’s hyper-partisan, ideologically driven Congress.
Certainly, the Republican-controlled House has sent to the Senate numerous good bills dealing with these problems. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama won’t even consider House bills on the big issues.
But the House is not without blame. Republicans won’t propose compromise legislation that can attract Democratic votes. One-sided legislation has no chance of becoming law.
So it’s incredibly frustrating to see the nation’s toughest problems stuck in partisan gridlock. Both sides deserve blame. Both sides continually hope the next election will give them control so they can ram through what they want. But that’s wishful thinking. To command real control, a party will need the House, two-thirds of the Senate and the presidency. That might not happen for decades. Meanwhile, the nation’s problems worsen.
Members of Congress ought to be embarrassed. They aren’t getting the job done. In football, the coach gets fired if he doesn’t get the job done, no matter how many excuses he has. We need to hold our own members of Congress more accountable. Nothing will be accomplished without compromise.
Do Utah’s members of Congress perform better or worse than Congress as a whole?
(Pignanelli) A lawmaker’s performance can be pleasure or poison, depending on the audience. Hatch’s legacy of crafting bipartisan solutions to national problems earns him respect from sane citizens but derision from the far right. Matheson's thoughtful deliberations establish him as Utah’s most popular politician but attracts incessant attacks from lefties. Lee "walked the walk" trying to stop Obamacare with the government shutdown, a strategy that angered some mainstream Republicans yet solidified affection with conservative activists.
Every generation or so, a member of the Utah delegation is swept from office because of a resurgent movement responding to federal dynamics (Reed Smoot 1932, William King 1940, Elbert Thomas 1950, Ted Moss 1976, Bob Bennett 2010). Our federal lawmakers often engage in controversial political issues but almost always avoid embarrassing scandals. So Utahns tend to view their federal representatives as beyond any nastiness bubbling in the Potomac area.
(Webb) Utah’s congressmen are good people, working hard. I like them all and agree with them ideologically. They reflect the values of most Utahns. But, with perhaps the exceptions of Hatch and Matheson, they won’t break out of a bad system, defy their leadership and caucus positions, and propose realistic, problem-solving legislation that has a chance of getting through both chambers and winning the president’s signature. They go along with the crowd and the result is gridlock.
Does this deep dissatisfaction with Washington provide opportunities for Utah Democrats this election cycle?
(Pignanelli) For legitimate and some illegitimate reasons, Utahns really hate the federal government. Matheson was brilliant to utilize this emotion for his electoral benefit with almost magical results. If Democrats used the Matheson strategy and created distance from Washington and independence from national special interest organizations, they could gain traction.
(Webb) Republicans will always be more adept at running against Washington — even when they are part of it. Wisely, Utahns won’t add another vote for Obama, Harry Reid, or the Democratic establishment in Washington. It will take a dramatically different kind of Democrat to win in Utah.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail:[email protected]. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney and lobbyist.