My congressman's 'best' idea? A legislative game show

My Republican congressman, in the spirit of fully representative democracy, has discovered how to best serve his constituents: Let ’em vote on what he ought to do.

Rep. John R. “Randy” Kuhl, R-N.Y., has sent his constituents a franked, four-color mailer announcing the “Fix Washington Project”:

Congressman Kuhl wants to hear from you. Between May 16th and July 18th, Congressman Kuhl is seeking your input and ideas regarding any federal issue. Residents of the 29th district can e-mail, call or fax their ideas to the Congressman’s office. Once all of the ideas have been submitted, five will be chosen and posted on Rep. Kuhl’s website to allow his constituents to from the list of five. The idea that gets the most votes will be introduced on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. [emphasis in original; press release]

Rep. Kuhl’s mailing says, “Now is the time to fix Washington.” Now? He’s been in office for 43 months and he’s just figured out now is the time?

It’s hardly surprising that Rep. Kuhl is asking for legislative initiatives — he’s had so few of his own. According to the Library of Congress Thomas service, he has filed only 12 bills in the 110th Congress; four have no co-sponsors and five have only one or two co-sponsors. His bills seek to:

• support designation of a week as “National Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Automated External Defibrillator Awareness Week.” (84 co-sponsors)
• recognize the 100th anniversary of Glenn Curtiss’s achievement of record-breaking speed and his contributions to the motorcycle and aircraft industries. (26 co-sponsors)
• support the goals and ideals of the National Kidney Foundation Kidney Walk. (1 co-sponsor)
• recognize the Canandaigua Veterans Affairs Medical Center on its 75th anniversary. (2 co-sponsors)
• amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for an assured adequate level of funding for veterans health care. (2 co-sponsors)
• amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to reduce the Federal excise tax on highway motor fuels when the weekly United States retail gasoline price, regular grade, is greater than $3.00 per gallon. (1 co-sponsor)
• authorize the United States Department of Energy to remediate the Western New York Nuclear Service Center in the Town of Ashford, New York, and dispose of nuclear waste. (no co-sponsors)
• to direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study to evaluate the significance of the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse located in Farmington, New York, and the suitability and feasibility of its inclusion in the National Park System as part of Women’s Rights National Historical Park, and for other purposes. (8 co-sponsors).
• provide for investment and protection of the Social Security surplus. (no co-sponsors).
• offer an amendment numbered 114 printed in the Congressional Record to instruct the Comptroller General of the United States and the Secretary of Homeland Security to conduct a study concerning the land and sea travlers [sic] of the Western Hemisphere Travel Implementation Act. (no co-sponsors; amendment withdrawn)
• offer an amendment numbered 115 printed in the Congressional Record to instruct the Comptroller General of the United States and the Secretary of Homeland Security to conduct a study at the Northern Border. (no co-sponsors; amendment withdrawn).

Nine of his bills remain parked in committee. This is the legislative record of my representative in Congress. This is the congressman who wrote to me and his other constituents: “Three-quarters of Americans think that Washington is on the wrong track. I, like you, am tired of the partisan politics and games that only lead to additional frustration and yield zero results. I need your help to fix Washington.” [emphasis in original]

Representatives in Congress are paid $169,300 annually. Their retirement and pension benefits are substantial. They receive a Member’s Representational Allowance for office expenses that reached between $1.2 and $1.4 million in 2005. They may buy or lease virtually any vehicle (and the gasoline’s included) at taxpayer expense. They receive significant health benefits. They get to be addressed as “Congressman” or “Congresswoman” for the rest of their lives.

And people give them money. In his federal fundraising career, Rep. Kuhl has pocketed $3,082,985 (nearly 60 percent from PACs). If he leaves office with money in the fundraising bank, so to speak, he retains control over the balance, as did retiring Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds.

Despite all these privileges — and responsibilities — as a congressman, Rep. Kuhl has reduced the American system of government to a reality game show. And surely it’s possible that he has plenty of inept company among his remaining 434 peers.

Rep. Kuhl is standing for re-election in November against a strong Democratic challenger, Eric Massa, who lost by only 2.9 percentage points after the Republicans poured in several hundred thousand dollars in the waning weeks of the 2006 mid-terms to hold onto the seat. Rep. Kuhl has an insignificant record of filing legislation. He has shown little political independence, voting with the GOP majority virtually in lockstep.

And now he’s asking for his constituents to do his thinking for him. From his mailer: If you’ve ever wondered why Congress hasn’t thought of something, now is your chance to finally get that idea into law. Congress hasn’t “thought” of something because too many members do so little significant, intellectually astute and honest thinking. Rep. Kuhl’s mailer is evidence of such political folly.

Rep. Kuhl’s record of legislation probably typifies that of many, if not most, members of Congress. Legislation of substance is rare, held at bay by divisive partisanship.

Rep. Kuhl’s latest, outrageous franked mailing (“This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense”) is good reason for his constituents to indeed vote — on ousting him in November.

13 replies »

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  2. Or a direct-mail democracy? Maybe all his brainpower is being sucked up into that hair.

  3. Don’t forfeit this opportunity… Propose congressional reform. Here is what to say!

    Any member of congress or the senate who accepts any contribution in any form including campaign contribution from any individual, corporation, lobbyist or other entity in an amount of more than $100 over however many individual parts and who subsequently votes in favor of a bill supported by said entity or by any agent of any sort for said entity shall be found guilty of accepting a bribe, with a penalty of removal from office, 10 years in prison, and forfeiture of all future benefits from office, including, but not limited to pension, health care benefits, enhanced access to federal properties, and any other such benefits.

  4. Euphrosyne, you have a funny way of insulting the few congressmen who are actually trying to improve the public’s perception of Congress.

  5. Dan, while what you said is a good start, I’d hate for it to ruin legit laws lobbied for by concerned citizens.

    How about we just level the playing field and tell PUBLIC REPRESENTATIVES that they are now allowed to accept money FROM ANYONE for anything law-related, under penalty of losing their job and being labeled ‘treasonous’ for putting their personal desires ahead of the public’s, which is after all what they were elected to do.

  6. My suggestion would be to clear the place of republicans. And anyone else who takes corporate money. Get rid of the lobbyists, or at least make them STAY in the lobby, and keep out of the legislative process. How about mandatory public financing of elections? That would remove the bribery that destroys any possibility of legislation being passed for anything but corporate gain. And my final suggestion, make the republican party illegal, and it’s members into the criminals that they really are. There, do you think I would stand a chance getting any of those through?

  7. “Get rid of the lobbyists, or at least make them STAY in the lobby, and keep out of the legislative process.” –

    Does this apply to unions also, especially the teachers’ unions?