July 16, 2007 - Congress should take a year’s leave of absence

Since I am part of the media world, I do have the opportunity to get to know and interview members of Congress during my several trips a year to Washington, D.C. I do have a high regard for people who are willing to make the race for public office and put in long hours to pursue their policies. I may disagree with them, but I still respect them.

I say that about individuals, but when it comes to the collective body of Congress, I have some real questions and frankly, I don’t think Congress comes anywhere near giving us voters our money’s worth. Various committees seem to be holding hearings ad nauseum on subjects ranging from steroids in baseball to oil prices to food safety and when the hearings end, I really don’t see any results that lead to legislation. The hearings seem to take more time than meaningful debate and results on important issues like health care, Social Security, energy programs and immigration.

It’s the lack of any legislation dealing with immigration that has prompted my “Alice-in-Wonderland” thought of giving members of Congress a year’s leave of absence...without pay. Serious debate on immigration led to an impasse and, finally, defeat of the proposed bi-partisan legislation. Some Senators managed to bring it back for a second vote only to see it defeated again and then they said there would be no more work on the bill in this session and Congress wouldn’t get back to immigration legislation until 2009!

But, wait a minute, what happened to 2008?, I asked a member of Congress. His response, “2008 is a Presidential election year; all House members and one-third of the members of the Senate are up for re-election. None of us, including Republican and Democratic party leaders are going to tackle controversial legislation that could anger people and cost us votes. And if there is a change in leadership in November 2008, any legislation passed before the election could be nullified and a waste of our time”. Sounds like a weak argument to me.

That’s when I came to the logical conclusion, in my mind, to give members a year’s leave of absence...without pay. Since they are back in their districts campaigning more than they are working on our behalf in Washington and since they are unwilling to tackle important legislation, why should we pay them for the year?

I can already see the nasty e-mails from members of Congress who will probably suggest that I be carried off to the funny farm, but if I don’t do my work at WGN Radio, my fate would be a leave of absence without pay or job termination. Why should Congress be different?

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