Long regarded as one of the most professional, stable governmental bodies of the world, the US Congress has rapidly grown increasingly dysfunctional over the last decade or so. Part of this degenerative trend stems from changes in rules that largely eliminated the practice of earmarking. As House and Senate members can no longer bring home the bacon, which has actually become an increasingly unpopular practice anyways, Party leaderships have lost a great deal of leverage over their members. This is particularly problematic for the GOP due to the structure of their Party being far more rigid with a far more centralized agenda than the weak coalition that has long been the Democratic Party. Having pushed an antigovernment theme for decades, Republican voters have turned to Libertarian and Tea Party candidates who fiercely embrace their independence, anarchy in some regards, and have established their own fundraising bases. The consequence is an inability of the Republican leadership to pursue an agenda that actually allows for some degree of governance.
Unfortunately, the lack of cooperation and failing governance tempts us to conclude legislative perks like earmarks are necessary evils for proper governance, but doing so would require us to embrace a terribly narrow understanding of the issues paralyzing government. Like all bad habits, the abuse of earmarks helped Party leaders deal with a variety of internal issues, but they also fostered unhealthy practices instead of solving problems. As the Democratic and Republican Parties began to polarize, earmarks allowed our elected official to function just enough to accomplish an acceptable level of governance, yet it improperly compensated for the dysfunctional nature of this polarization. In fact, it encouraged elected officials to stop working with others across the aisle when doing so went against the interests of the Parties. As voters grew increasingly anti-Democratic and anti-Republican, they elected politicians who mirrored their sentiments, thus the Parties and their members could no longer cooperate. When crises like the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks and the 2008/2009 Great Recession demanded large, ongoing responses, the inherit conflicts of these polarized political views eventually exploded in deep division. In essence, earmarks only hid a lack of cooperation and willingness to address opposing viewpoints as increasing friction eventually overwhelmed our political will to work with others when crises demanded cooperation. Over time, this unhealthy dynamic left us with a whole list of bad policies that have caused their own crises, including a ballooning National Debt.
Consequently, reinstating practices like earmarks may help temporally alleviate some of the division seen in the US Congress, but such a solution will only prevent the underlying issues behind the dysfunction from being addressed. Members of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate must learn to build consensus through a balancing of the America People’s interests in order to fix government. A large part of this process hinges upon US citizens becoming more involved in government. Quite frankly, the American People cannot expect their interests to be addressed by their government unless they retake control of their democratic government. Above all, bad thinking and destructive habits of our elected officials need to be flushed out through the removal of extreme political thinking, i.e. those not willing to address the interests of opposing perspectives must be removed from office and those not willing to work with solutions offered by others must be scolded by the American People until they do find viable compromises. With the loss of practices like earmarks, the only form of leverage in Washington and our state Congresses is the will of the constituents. Accordingly, the American People need to reshape the behavior of our political leaders, so they act in our interests, instead of on their own whims and for the will of those financing their campaigns.
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