DOUG ROSS: Let congressional committees function

2013-11-08T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Let congressional committees functionBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

Everyone knows Congress is dysfunctional. U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, knows this well. He offered his insights Monday to The Times Editorial Board and on the nwi.com Political Roundtable.

The collapse of the committee structure is a symptom of that congressional leadership failure. And by leadership, I mean both sides of the aisle.

The leaders in Congress have set up a series of crises by not following the rules of Congress, and this has only made the problem worse.

Consider that October deal that ended the partial shutdown of government.

"That was an appropriations bill," Visclosky said. "Our committee had nothing to do with it."

Visclosky fought for several years to get on the powerful Appropriations Committee, only to see that committee ignored by House leadership hammering out deals that bypass the committee. The same thing happens in the Senate.

"The committee system has completely atrophied and has been for 20 years," Visclosky said.

Trouble is, most members of the House haven't experienced anything but the current dysfunction.

"More than half of the House has been there for less than four years," Visclosky reminded us. They don't know any better.

What's it going to take to fix this? Elect more moderates. They're an endangered species in Congress.

"Moderates are just a dying breed on both sides because they get picked off," Visclosky said.

Here's how that works. Extremists target moderate incumbents in primary elections, when they're most vulnerable. Political activists know the ones most likely to vote in primary elections are the zealots, not the moderates. So that's where the zealots work hard to thin out the ranks of moderates.

This has become so common that the term "primaried" has come to describe how incumbents get taken down this way.

Former U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar offers an example close to home of how this process works.

The resulting polarization in Congress sets up these fierce partisan battles, fueled by the leaders struggling to hold on to power in the face of their members' extreme views. And that has harmed the committee process.

Big deal, you say? Yes, in fact. It is a big deal.

Continuing resolutions keep government functioning, but not functioning well.

Committees make decisions that reflect current priorities, whereas continuing resolutions reflect past priorities.

Visclosky stood on the House floor earlier this year and read a list of items his committee wants to cut, but the continuing resolutions circumvent the committee's decisions.

Even programs the Pentagon brass want to eliminate or reduce are kept alive by congressional dysfunction.

Want to end this? Elect moderates. And vote in primary elections, not just in the general election, to weed out the extremists at either end of the political spectrum.

All things in moderation, our parents and grandparents used to say. That applies to politics, too.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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