HAYDEN HOLLINGSWORTH: A Commonweal Congress

Hayden Hollingsworth

Let’s make an assumption:  The elected members of Congress have the common good as their first interest.  That’s what commonweal means.  And wouldn’t it be grand if that were true.  If asked, I suspect all 535 members of the world’s most exclusive club would certainly endorse that as their motivation for public service.  If the average citizen was asked if that were true, I think the vast majority would shake their heads in denial.

The men and women who comprise this great legislative body are just like the rest of us.  The expectation of looking after our individual interests is higher than the common good.  It is unrealistic to think that our elected leaders subscribe to a different and higher standard that we do. The fact that they are often found to be performing at a level less than what most would considerable honorable doesn’t make them worse than the rest of us; they are just subject to closer scrutiny and when feet of clay are discovered everyone knows.

That being said, perhaps we should look on recent legislative action with a little more charity.  Sixty-two times since the passage of the Affordable Care Act there has been a vote to repeal it and each time it has failed.  Everyone would agree that the ACA had many faults.  The computer crash on launch and the untruths that were bandied about were only the first of many problems.

On the positive side 24 million uninsured citizens had the opportunity for coverage and those with pre-existing conditions were no longer excluded.  The rising premiums were exorbitant and many insurance companies withdrew their offerings because the expense of implementation outweighed the potential for profit.

There are many sad aspects to the whole saga, one of the most egregious being that no one, either democrat or republican, made any effort to correct the deficiencies but rather they were used as promises by the GOP in congressional elections and ultimately in the presidential election.  No rational plan had been drafted during the 62 failed attempts to repeal the ACA but the threat of public revolt at polls so terrified the republicans that they managed to push through a bill of repeal by the swinging of two congressmen.

That no one understands the impact of this revision, that the Congressional Budget Office did not have time to make a projection of the cost of the new legislation was overwhelmed by the sense of embarrassment that yet another recess was upcoming after a month of only eight working days in Congress so the pressure to do something was immense.  Twenty republican house members voted against the bill, so they may face less hostility when the facts of the bill come to rest on the weary shoulders of the now uninsured public.

Two true statements have been made by the president:  Health care is complex and his job is harder than he thought.  Astounding!  If it were not so complex it would have been solved a half century ago.

Here’s another hard fact:  There is no solution that will meet the needs.  We want full coverage for everyone, we don’t want to pay the taxes to afford it, we don’t want the government to be mandating how we live our lives and spend our money.  All these expectations of what Congress and the President can do are products of fantasy.  So don’t blame the republicans, the democrats, and the president.  They must learn the hard truth of the immensity of the problem and stop the infighting and must serve the commonweal, not their parties.

Here’s a radical starting suggestion:  Get rid of the aisle and have random seating in Congress chosen by lottery and redone every session.  Sitting next to an opponent every working session might soften the positions and cooperation might begin to replace conflagration.

The public must change its expectations of Congress and that will require a reordering of our priorities.  If there is going to be a Commonweal, we must be part of it.  If left to our current elected officials, Bob Goodlatte and Morgan Griffith among them, it has been well demonstrated that no solution can be found.  Let’s remember that in the election cycle of next year.

Hayden Hollingsworth