American Culture

Vote now on my congressman's fix Washington gimmick. (Really!)

My favorite political reality game show — my congressman’s “Fix Washington Project” — has entered the voting stage.

S&R readers might recall that Rep. John R. “Randy” Kuhl, R-N.Y., in June sent me and his other constituents a franked, four-color mailer announcing his latest scheme for improving government (you know, the task that taxpayers pay him and his 434 House confreres $169,000 a year each to accomplish).

His gimmick: Voters should send him their ideas for “fixing Washington”; he and his staff would select the top five and put them up for a vote on his House Web site. After “voting” ends Sept. 12, the winner, as Rep. Kuhl wrote in his monthly e-mailed newsletter, the Kuhl Khronicle, “will be introduced on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. I am thrilled to see my constituents getting directly involved in the legislative process.”

The continuing unconscionable abdication of independent, intelligent thought by my representative in Congress leaves me dumbfounded.

As I wrote in June, it’s no surprise he’s needed his constituents’ help. According to the Library of Congress’ Thomas database, Rep. Kuhl has introduced only 17 bills in the 110th Congress. Many are honorifics and procedurals or bills with no or few co-sponsors. (Give him credit, however, for seeking to extend SCHIP funding.)

It’s worth nothing, however, that his constituents — more than 400 submitted ideas — came up with some sound proposals (at least the top five, as picked by Rep. Kuhl and his staff).

Here they are, precisely as listed on Rep. Kuhl’s House Web site:

1. Make Stop-Loss illegal. Suggested by Andrew Anissi, Pittsford, NY (Stop-Loss is an involuntary extension of one’s military service, typically at the end of a tour of duty, due to unit requirements.)
2. Allocate a percentage of NASA’s annual funding to go toward studying alternative energy. Suggested by Elaine Johnson, Pittsford, NY
3. Award a $75 million dollar prize to the college, university, or private sector organization that finds an economically viable alternative for gasoline. Suggested by Cindy Bacchetta, Pittsford, NY
4. Make universal default on credit cards illegal. Suggested by David Matz, Bonaventure, NY. (A Universal Default Clause states that a creditor can raise your interest rate if you have been late on any of your loans.)
5. Impose term limits on all members of Congress. U.S. Representatives should be limited to six two-year terms (12yrs) and U.S. Senators to two six-year terms (12yrs). Suggested by Armand Marianetti, Farmington; John Gobe, Stanley; Peter Haidt, Pittsford; Mary Kelly, Ellicottville; Janis Becker, Caneadea; Martin Adduci, Machias; Dave Zacharias, Canandaigua; Robert Rutt, Rochester; Alexander Hoffarth, Rochester; Duane Granger, Pittsford

They’re all good ideas. But why did he need constituents’ help in bringing them to the floor of the House? It’s as if none of these had ever occurred to him or his staff — otherwise, presumably, he would have already filed legislation to promote them.

Rep. Kuhl has frequently boasted of regularly communicating with his constituents. In fact, he pledged when running for election and re-election that would he visit each town and village in his district. And he’s done so: “I held a public Town Meeting in every Town in the 29th Congressional District each years [sic] since being sworn-in to office. That’s 145 town meetings every year!”

So what? He has rarely reported on the issues discussed at those meetings, and journalists rarely cover them. His legislative record suggests nothing of public-policy substance occurred in each of those 145 “town meetings” during his terms in office. Hence, it seems, he has turned to his constituents to “fix Washington.”

Questions abound here. Rep. Kuhl has a lifetime rating of 82 percent by the American Conservative Union. His voting record displays staunch support of President Bush. So how were the winning entries selected? On what basis? Was any ideological litmus test applied?

I don’t know, because the congressman’s Web site doesn’t say. Not only that, each of these ideas is not exactly new or innovative. They’ve all been in the hopper of public opinion for some time. Did his “Fix Washington Project” result from a need to be perceived as innovative and responsive to constituents because he’s in a tough re-election fight against a viable Democrat? And because he trails his challenger in fundraising?

Should you wish to actually vote for one of the ideas, do so here. (You’ll notice, however, that it requires you to provide an e-mail address — an inelegant way to increase Rep. Kuhl’s database of recipients of the Kuhl Khronicle.)

Stay tuned; when a winner’s selected, I’ll report it here.

I, of course, voted for No. 5 — term limits. I want to amend the bill, however, to limit incompetent House members to two terms: That would prevent my representative in Congress from further insulting constituents’ intelligence after this term ends.

* * * * *

Read more about Rep. Kuhl’s “ideas” on public policy:

• High gas prices? My congressman has a plan — blame Democrats.
• My congressman’s ‘best’ idea? A legislative game show.
• My congressman’s advice on oil, gas prices … not so good.
• Bill to cut federal gas tax? Bad idea, bad public policy.

10 replies »

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  2. Nice article, Denny. I must disagree that these are all good ideas, though.

    1. Stop-loss. There’s no way in hell the military can do this, and no way Congress would vote to do it. There have been many times in the nation’s history when soldiers have been required to stay on after their hitch was up. It’s a function of the wartime environment, and there’s no getting around it. It’s understood, when one signs up for the military, that this could happen.

    2. NASA funding for alternative energy. Why NASA, for pity’s sake? NASA isn’t all that large as governmental agencies go, and its expertise is in space flight. Why not increase funding to freakin’ engineering schools across the country?

    3. Award $75 million for an economically feasible alternative to gasoline. You mean like, ethanol?

    4. Make universal default illegal. Well, this is one of the better suggestions, for sure, but let’s at least look at the fact that upping the percentage rate on a loan is tied to the perceived risk of that loan. If you take away the ability to up the percentage rate, all the rates go up for everyone to cover that risk.

    5. Imposing term limits on US congresspeople requires a Constitutional amendment, I think, which is highly impractical. In addition, it’s actually nice to have some expertise in Congress from time to time, and experience tends to breed expertise. The things people are trying to fix with term limits can be fixed in other ways; for instance, by being much, much stricter about the influence of campaign contributions on voting behavior. In addition, we’ll just be creating a lot more powerful lobbyists with term limits.

    This is why pure democracy is a terrible form of government.

  3. JS, my use of the adjective “good” should be limited to the fact that his constituents proposed ideas worth airing. (Jeez, I ought to write more clearly.) They’re expressed in sufficiently vague language to read about anything into them.

    I wonder if the wording used on Rep. Kuhl’s Web site is precisely what people proposed. I disagree with you even though your argument is sound. To me, a deal’s a deal. (Especially if recruiters promise it.) Formal declaration of war, of course, would be a different matter, in terms of abrogating the deal.

    You may well be right on No. 2. Then again, NASA paid $10 million for the brand-new science building I have to look at from my office. (Can you say “earmarks’?) On 3, the Web site’s vague wording leaves me unimpressed.

    I’ve understood the real scam on UDR to be if I screw up Visa, I’ll get UDR’d on all my other pieces of plastic.

    On 5, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I do agree a certain number of gray beards can help, but so many of the many-term folks in Congress are deadweight, held in place by incumbency.

    Thanks for taking the time to write extensive comments. ‘Preciate it, as always.

  4. Doc,

    When my son signed a military contract, included in it was the clause that said that his term of enlistment could be extended. So, the deal, as written, includes extension at need.

    Just FYI.

  5. So noted.

    Did a story years ago about local recruiters who hid certain facts of life and fine print from potential enlistees. It still irritates me that in this undeclared presidential war, kids are doing multiple tours, and having them extended on top of that.

    Still, thanks for correcting me.

  6. JS: Whether or not those are “good” ideas or not is something we can debate. What is less controversial, though, is the fact that all are better ideas than anything he was likely to come up with on his own.

  7. Denny,
    I have to defend JS on the military front. As a vet myself and a thinking individual (or at least I like to believe I am one) I need to point out that anyone entering into a multi-year life-altering contract should take the time to read it. The contract clearly states the possibility of being extended as well as the possibility of being placed in harms way. Also a recruiter may try to hide these facts but they are part of the in-processing briefing every recruit receives PRIOR to taking their oath and formally entering service.

    Just my 2 cents,

    Rho