Can a candidate get elected and still do the job?

The ad on TV said that Congressman Martin Heinrich doesn’t stay in Washington but comes home to New Mexico  — where his wife and kids continue to live – every weekend.  In Washington, he doesn’t have an apartment.  He sleeps on a cot in his office.  Back here, he sponsors job fairs.

For a minute I thought I was watching an ad for his opponent.  But this was Heinrich’s own ad.

I wonder whether Congressman Heinrich thinks this is the right way to do his job.  Even more, I wonder if this is what constituents have asked him for.  Now that he’s the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, we need his constituents (that’s us) to change the message.

Remember the debt ceiling crisis last year?  Congress could not agree on raising the ceiling to pay for government debt that had already been incurred, and the United States was in jeopardy of defaulting on its financial obligations.  With just hours before the artificially created deadline, an agreement was reached by both parties saddling the nation with unacceptable budget cuts, which threaten us now with the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

To prevent this kind of disgraceful crisis and enact reasoned legislation, to improve the economy and reduce federal deficits, we need, first of all, members of Congress who can talk to each other.

Washington analysts have been saying that the new Congressional practice of camping out in Washington and rushing home to the district every weekend is part of the problem.  In past years, they say, Congress members moved their families to Washington and stayed there most of the year, socializing across party lines and getting to know each other.  They were criticized then for losing touch with their home communities, but those relationships provided a basis for working together.

Today quite a few do what Heinrich does.  They don’t socialize. Some never meet their colleagues of the opposite party.   We can hope that all those members using the United States Capitol as a dormitory manage to say a civil hello to each other in the locker rooms.  Democrats and Republicans are indistinguishable in the shower, don’t you think?

Heinrich is not alone in getting the priorities of the job wrong.  His opponent, Heather Wilson, has signed “the pledge” that makes her beholden not to the people of New Mexico but to powerful Washington lobbyists who oppose any tax increase of any kind.  The pledge is almost mandatory for Republicans these days (though District One Congressional candidate Janice Arnold-Jones has not signed it).

The analysts tell us that, to solve our long-term debt and deficit problems, the ideal policy is to keep taxes generally low while broadening the tax base by closing loopholes that create special exemptions.

However, the tax pledge does not distinguish between a tax increase and closing a loophole.  Any member of Congress who has signed the pledge is locked in an inflexible position that does not permit negotiation to solve this nation’s critical problems.  We don’t hear what those members would identify as loopholes they’d be willing to close.  Behind every loophole is a wealthy special interest, backed up by the tax pledge lobbyists, ready to accuse a member of violating the pledge for supporting changes even to the most egregious loopholes.

To win elections, apparently candidates of both parties think they must do the opposite of what will help our country.

Members of Congress take an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution, which says their job is to make laws.   To make laws, they must be able to reason together.  Whether you support Wilson or Heinrich, you might share that thought with them.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2012

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