Will Congress’s tea party class go native in Washington?
As the 112th Congress gets under way, many of its new members are tea party freshmen who vowed to ‘take on’ Washington. But their early reliance on special-interest money to pay off campaign debts will make that hard to do.
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Another target for tea party trimming might be that bipartisan attempt at alchemy called “nation building.” Bill Clinton failed in Somalia. George W. Bush broke the bank in Iraq. Barack Obama is pouring American blood and treasure down the Afghan sinkhole.Skip to next paragraph
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Lining up at the lobbyists' trough
Unfortunately, our new members of Congress seem less concerned about policy change and more preoccupied with reducing debt, primarily their own. The Washington Post recently ran a disheartening story about how the new crop of anti-Washington freshmen have been lining up at the lobbyists’ trough, begging for money to help pay off their campaign debts.
Paying down the federal debt now appears secondary to milking the cash cows that put the tea party folks in the back pockets of special interests.
The problem is that every dollar that elected officials take from the vested interests dilutes the mandate of the electorate to “come out from among them, and be ye separate.”
Just days after being elected, tea party puppies discovered what every incumbent knows – that the most onerous duty of any member of Congress is raising money. “A congressman’s life is constant fundraising,” Mr. Weller told me. “They hate to beg, but it’s constant fundraising – breakfasts several times a week, receptions most evenings.”
You can buy a ticket for your new congressman’s debt-retirement dinner – priced anywhere from $250 to $5,000 a ticket.
A new congressman’s first priority is paying off last year’s election debt (often in the millions), then raising more money for 2012. It’s a crass process.
One former Senate staffer tells of hearing a Wall Street financier indiscreetly bragging, “Senators get bought and sold. We buy them all the time.” This same staffer said, “It doesn’t do any good to write your congressman. Money is the only way to get their attention – big money.”
To take on Washington, take on the special interests
The only encouraging aspect of today’s Washington is that at least now there are websites you can check to see who owns your representative.
One longtime Washington public-relations man, a Democrat, observed: “After the Supreme Court opened the floodgates removing restraints on campaign spending, corporations can now buy the whole Congress.”
Sadly, Washington’s vested interests had their hooks in these new members before they even came to Washington.
If voters really want to “take back Washington,” they’ll have to do more than punish the party in power every few years. They’ll have to find ways to keep well-heeled special interests from walking all over freshman legislators.