With congressional disapproval ratings at around 80%, does the Hill know something the rest of us don’t when it comes to getting work done in Congress?
Hannah Howroyd ’13
This past semester while studying in Washington, D.C., I had the chance to intern on Capitol Hill. Now, before you think this is a chronicle of a stereotypical “Hill Intern”, I implore you to hear me out.
Going into the semester-long internship, I and others around me kept asking the question, “Why do you want to work for the most hated place in America?” The self-inquiry was valid, seeing that Congressional approval ratings are at all-time lows — hovering in the 10-13 percentile at the start of the year. Frankly, apart from my scholastic drive to see policy making first-hand, I wanted to see if there was, in fact, truth behind this perception of the anemic and partisan pace of Congress. The ubiquitous news headlines that clamored “gridlock” or “paralyzed” intrigued me to find out firsthand if the nation is really at a standstill. Is Congress truly riddled with dysfunction, policy gridlock, and crippling partisanship? Can those that we have elected into office really be bickering over petty details, whose feet-dragging has lead to TSA shut-downs, funding scares, and the like? It seemed as if repercussions of the ineffective, quarrelling Congress were being felt far beyond Washington. Perhaps it was my naïveté or lack of exposure to the ways of Washington, but I wanted to quell or confirm concerns about the state of America for myself.
What I found was that yes, the rumors are true. Partisanship is creating a deep schism between what is being done and needs to be done. Interning with a Democratic Congressman (a minority in the House), I saw the policy-halting effects that partisanship had on effectively passing much-needed and time-sensitive legislation. Now I’m not saying that to err is solely on the Republican side—for partisanship is a two-way street—or that the phenomenon of a divided executive and legislative branch has never occurred (see: Clinton Administration and the 104th “Gingrich” Congress, etc.). But when Republican leadership in the Senate vows to do their utmost, not to have their constituents voices heard, but rather to make sure President Obama is a one-term president, you know there is an inherent flaw in the current system. Legislation and compromise for legislation breaks down, and it directly threatens the very Americans that the Representatives are elected to represent.
Nota bene: my view of Congress now is not pessimistic, for the extreme hard work and long hours that the office and staff undergo is not in vain and should not be overlooked. However, I presume a more accurate word for my experience when it comes to looking at partisan issues is disheartening. In order to change the current status quo of severe partisanship in Washington, maybe Congress needs is to look at itself with an out-of-the-Beltway pair of eyes. The highly-politicized atmosphere that surrounds Capitol Hill is almost heavier than the humidity that engulfs Washingtonians. In order to take a few steps forward, perhaps a change of perspective by taking a few steps back— out of focus of Independence & Constitution Ave—is needed. Congress needs to, and this is, admittedly, rather simplified, listen to the people they represent instead of focusing on which partisan talking points they will stick to next, or which big business interests they have whispering in their ear. Big-picture thinking is needed; the country cannot be revitalized with this nuanced, partisan nitpicking building up roadblocks for America.