Electoral Dysfunction



While the political world is totally immersed in the Presidential election, the rest of us have been delegated to spectator status. Along with the nation’s problems and causes that we care deeply about.

Not that long ago, members of both parties worked together to get the work of the people done. They disagreed often, but at the end of the day or week or session, they’d find common ground and move forward on issues that meant something to the U.S. citizenry. They even found a way to pass a budget each year. Not anymore.

Congressional gridlock is measurable. The 113th Congress (2013-2014) passed just 212 “substantive” bills (not including the renaming buildings, issuing commemorative coins or other ceremonial bills), second only to the 112th Congress that managed to pass just 208 bills – the least productive on record.

It might be tempting to say that the fewer bills they pass, the better we all are but we know that’s not true. School funding stagnates; the federal budget is a mess; funding for important projects, like clean water, infrastructure or Everglades restoration dries up.

It’s easy to blame members of Congress for Washington gridlock, but the real cause is voters. Members of Congress certainly share some of the blame, but voters put them there. Voters have dug their heels in on any number of subjects and are not interested in compromise or discussion. If they can’t have their way, gridlock seems to be the next best thing.

Our elected officials dare not approach anyone of the other party to so much as brainstorm solutions for fear of being labeled a sympathizer by party faithful who are focused on controlling the House, Senate and White House. It’s all about power, baby. Getting it. Keeping it. Using it to crush your opponents and force your priorities down their throats.

Funny how that description didn’t make it into civics books, but such is the sad state of politics in 2016.

It looks like Alexis de Tocqueville was right when he said way back in 1835, “We get the government we deserve.”

Recently I came across a 2011 essay regarding just that topic by Henry Mintzberg, a Professor of Management at McGill University. One paragraph struck me as still ringing true five years later:

“We get the government we deserve. If we vote for empty promises, we should expect empty actions. If we vote out of anger, we will find ourselves with angry politicians who are mean. If we expect little from government, in the belief that it is rotten, then (we) should not be surprised to get rotten government that does little. And vice versa.”

Normally, the dysfunction of Washington D.C. is a distant annoyance. But last week, it became much more personal. While attending a conference with over 2,000 medical researchers, all focused on finding cures for childhood cancer, I was reminded of the very real effect of a do-nothing Congress – it threatens research that is critical to finding cures for not just cancer, but all of the diseases the National Institute of Health focuses on.

Once again, Congress is looking at a continuing resolution to fund the government; they may have passed one by the time you read this.

A continuing resolution (CR) is not the same as passing a budget. It’s a Congressional kick-the-can-down-the-road. A CR generally provides funding for programs at the same rate as the previous year until a set date, when Congress thinks it can pass a budget and appropriation bills. A CR does not fund anything new or anything that needs additional funding.

The U.S. budget year begins October 1. What have they been doing that’s more important than funding the federal government?

My meeting last week was focused on childhood cancer, a disease that kills more children than any other disease in the U.S. One in five kids with cancer will not survive their cancer diagnosis. Of those that do survive, 95% will have a chronic health problem from their treatment; 80% will have severe or life-threatening problems related to their treatment. This is a critical issue facing our children and our country. I think it’s more important that political theater.

Kids with cancer aren’t the only ones being ignored by D.C. How about Zika? Or the Flint water system? They won’t be in any CR. Nor will help for flood-ravaged Louisiana.

The people we elect and send to D.C. will only change when we voters change what we demand of them.

Until we demand that they work together to find solutions to the problems our country faces, we will only get more foot-dragging and politicking.

Our kids with cancer deserve better. Kids in Flint deserve better. Families in Louisiana deserve better. We all deserve better.


Missy Layfield