Rep. Scott Rigell: Maverick GOP freshman in the eye of a political storm
Obama is hitting Virginia Beach, Va., Thursday for a reason: It's one of the hottest political ad markets in the country. Its congressman, Scott Rigell, is out to change Washington's 'toxic mix of partisanship, no facts, weak ideas.'
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“I don’t expect a freshman to expect to do all this and especially a freshman from Eric Cantor’s own state,” says Rep. Jim Cooper (D) of Tennessee. “He’s extraordinarily brave to deviate an inch from party doctrine.”
Facts, members of Congress like to say, are stubborn things. And American disdain for Congress is a fact. The legislative branch’s approval rating verges on single digits. The 112th Congress is, statistically, the least-productive session since World War II. underperforming even the the infamous “do-nothing” Congress reviled by President Harry Truman.
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About midway through his first term, Rigell noted that his were constituents expressing “fear, angst, and anger” about Congress. “And so I went, as best as I could tell, to the root of the problem," he said.
Rigell approached Representative Cooper with what one of the last Blue Dog Democrats described as a “very inquiring mind and a distressed conscience.” After adding Rep. Reid Ribble (R) of Wisconsin and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D) of Oregon to the mix, the Fix Congress Now caucus was ready to roll. The caucus, now supported by some dozen members, has a single signature piece of legislation: no budget, no pay.
The concept is simple: If Congress fails to pass a budget and all 12 appropriations bills by Oct. 1 of each year, legislators go without pay until they’ve achieved passage of every bill. Lawmakers can’t recoup lost pay, either.
The bill is far short of becoming law: It has at least 77 House co-sponsors. A Senate version is sponsored by several Republicans, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, a pragmatic lawmaker who stepped down from his party’s leadership last year to free himself for more bipartisan problem-solving.
The group also aims to “end careerism in public service by beginning the public discourse on term limits.”
But at the urging of Rigell, the group also aims to make a few changes that don’t require legislation by changing how members of Congress act. Rigell, for instance, always refers to the president as "President Obama," never as “Obama.”
“This is foundational to me because we respect the office,” Rigell says. “That basic civility in my view is part of a thread that holds us together, the glue that holds us together.”
That also means he doesn’t use the term “Obamacare” to refer to the president’s signature health-care reform law. It's pejorative, he says, and doesn't respect the facts.
“If I’m trying to move someone in this direction, I want a debate on the president’s health-care plan on the merits on the plan or the lack of merit of the plan. I don’t want someone immediately thinking, incorrectly so, that it has something personal to do with the president,” Rigell says, “because it doesn’t.”
Finally, Rigell’s urges members to stop questioning the motives of those with whom they disagree.
Rigell believes Obama wakes up every morning wanting to put more Americans back to work, but the congressman does “question his wisdom, his judgment” on actually getting people employed.