J. KARL MILLER: Is Congress really to blame?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:41 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The letters to editors, hotline commentary, street interviews, blogs and responses thereto and coffee klatch discourse are full of diatribes over the ineffectiveness/incompetence of Congress and the overriding need for term limits. With the approval of the legislature hovering around 15 percent, that attitude appears natural.

If one is looking for reasons to demonize Congress, they are not hard to find. High unemployment, household income down 8.3 percent, rising prices for staples such as gasoline, higher taxes, increases in medical insurance, ad infinitum with little visible improvement over the last four years have made our lawmakers an easy target for much of the public.

But why not take an objective look at the record for once. When times are bad and/or when the executive is frustrated with the separation of powers doctrine, one or both houses of Congress are convenient whipping boys. In my lifetime, the most memorable was President Truman's attack on the "Do Nothing 80th Congress" to win the 1948 general election.

With the cloying support of the mainstream media, much of which has yet to fix any responsibility on the executive for our economic doldrums, this president has made unparalleled use of the bully pulpit. And, in keeping with his modus operandi, he has traveled a campaign circuit condemning the Republican majority in the House and the GOP minority in the Senate.

Admittedly, this Congress does not have a sterling record in cooperative venues. There has been minimal passage of legislation and subsequent reconciliation of differences between the two houses before sending it to the president for signature.

Nevertheless, one must realize that the two political parties differ ideologically in the philosophy of governing. These differences include, but are not limited to, size and scope of government, taxation, right to work, right to bear arms as defined by the Second Amendment and minimal government interference.

The employment of doomsday predictions, pundit support and executive pronouncement does not render either party's ideology right or wrong. There are differences which must be reconciled in committees and leadership rather than in the media. Contrary to the uninformed and the wishful thinking of some, we are not governed by public opinion.

There have been obstructive tactics in the House and the Senate alike. On the Republican side, Speaker Boehner has encountered near rebellion by the Tea Party faction, some of which has been costly and non productive.

In the Democrat-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Reid has virtually declared all legislation submitted by the Republican House as "DOA," blocking not a small number of bills. But the most destructive weapon of the Senate has been one of non-action. This is year number four of the Senate's failure to pass a budget (required by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974), a dereliction which has forced the government to be funded by continuing resolution and is a contributor to the sequestration.

Accordingly, we are confronted with nothing really new — we have a history of 225-plus years of two-party differences — none of which have ever proven insurmountable. The legislature is comprised of a cross section of the American people, mostly smart — some not so bright, most personable — some with the personalities of rattlesnakes, most well educated and wealthy and with an overabundance of lawyers.

The glue that binds them is, with few exceptions, a desire to make a difference — to legislate wisely and well. And, in spite of the constant prating "throw the bums out" and "don't vote for any incumbent," the vast majority are re-elected. It would appear that most constituencies are satisfied with their representation — it is "those other guys who are the problem."

Here in Missouri, we have an advantage over most states — we have tried and are still suffering from allowing the public to saddle us with term limits. We have found that there is no substitute for experience — that an arbitrary "cleansing" of the legislature will often throw the baby out with the bath water.

There is an alternative to complaining about your legislative representation. Whether you voted for your current senator or representative or not — have you considered contacting those individuals to state your opinion? Having served on Capitol Hill for five years as a Liaison Officer to Congress, I guarantee that is more effective than complaining over a cup of coffee with like-minded companions.

Fear not, there is a solution to this impasse. To paraphrase Strother Martin in "Cool Hand Luke," "What we have here is a failure of leadership." We have had adult supervision in the White House and Congress before, the grownups will return — hopefully without much delay.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Michael Williams March 6, 2013 | 2:45 p.m.

Gov't policies hindering growth, according to the Federal Reserve and the very businesses that hire you.

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