United States Congress

Though many may dispute this fact, the approval of the public as far as congress is concerned is very important. It is important to note that the American political system structure foresees elections of the congress after every two years. This essentially means that every two years, we have all the house members of congress becoming eligible for elections and hence with that in mind, the approval of the public cannot be overstated. In this text, I will concern myself with the various reasons why congress is viewed negatively by the public and what might bring back the confidence of the public as far as Congress is concerned.

The public view of congress

Polls carried out in the recent past show of waning public opinion of congress

As already noted in the introductory section, every two years, members of the congress become eligible for a re-election and on being re-elected; the new cast of members must make sure they represent the interest of citizens in the United States national legislature. According to Dan (2009) the public views congress negatively as a result of a number of things.

For instance, the overlap which is brought about by the attempt by congress to attend to serve both the needs of their constituents and those of the whole nation could be one of the biggest contributors to the negative perception people have of congress. In recent times, we have seen such a clash most memorably in regard to the Iraqi war resolution. Here, the congress formally authorized military action or the use of force against Iraq; a move that came to be relatively unpopular with the public.

However, on a closer look, congress had an obligation to ensure that it acted in the best interests of the nation while on the other hand; to also have to ensure that it was responsive to local concerns. In regard to the national concerns, members of the congress had the obligation to protect the interest of the United States in the light of allegations that Iraq was hosting a number of weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, there were widespread protests on the rationality of the war especially given the fact that there was no proof of the existence of the so called weapons of mass destruction.

In the above scenario, the move by congress to represent national concerns put the very members on a collision course with members of the public who saw congress as an unresponsive body which is largely insensitive to the views of people. Hence in that regard, the attempt by congress to serve two constituents (at the local and national level) is one of the main contributors to the relatively negative view of the public.Another accusation which has been leveled against congress and which is a significant contributor to the negative view of the public is aloofness.

According to The Gallup Organization (2009), many members of the public feel that members of congress have lost touch with their constituents. Indeed, this is not far fetched given the fact that members of congress are largely engaged with a large number of obligations including but not in any way limited o the passage of laws at a national level as well as the representation of the interests of Washington. Hence in that regard, there is a fundamental challenge in keeping in touch with the commoner. It is important to note that on average, each of the congress’ members represents an estimated 650,000 individuals (Dan 2009).

On the other hand, most members of congress cover vast geographical locations and hence keeping in touch with each and every member of the constituency may be a tall order.Something else that contributes towards the congress being viewed negatively by members of the public is their alleged fat paychecks. Indeed, many members of the public feel that congress is overpaid thanks to the ability of members to make adjustments of their salaries. For instance in a study carried out in 2008, it was found out that the average American citizen received a salary of just over $45,000 whereas the average salary of a member of congress stood at a whooping $170,000.

This is almost four times the average American salaries. According to Dan (2009) the method members of congress use to increase their salaries raises a lot of questions as to the appropriateness of such an action. For instance it is not uncommon to have an increment note slipped into a significant oncoming budget at the very last minute where chances of notice are largely low. When such maneuvers are later identified, the standing of congress members in the eyes of the public is lowered.

Further, media reports have in more than one occasion run stories of congress members going on expensive trips abroad with the bills being footed by the tax payer. Indeed, in a wall street journal article, congressional members were criticized for going on having fancy dinners, going on shopping sprees, paying for an upwards of $300 per night rooms as well as spas; all at tax payers expense. Though the trips are often necessary; it is important to note that the expenses should be trimmed down as they are under constant scrutiny by members of the public.

It is also important to note that congress has been charged of ‘sleeping on the job’ by allowing most of is powers to be usurped by the executive i.e. the presidency. According to The Gallup Organization (2009), other than letting important decisions be part of a congressional process, the presidency seems to have assumed significant budgetary as well as legislative powers. Though the current president is seen as trying to trim these tendencies, previous presidents including George Bush were seen as having itinerancies towards broadening the executive power with their administrations particularly arguing that there was an urgent need to have “an expansive view of presidential powers.”

This according to Dan (2009) is in one way or the other against the constitution. A case in time where the executive has encroached on the preserve of the executive is when George Will claimed that the president had offered automakers funds without the explicit authorization of congress. This he argues could go a long way to instill a culture of impunity where presidents execute actions in full disregard of the law.

This could go a long way to diminish the standing of congress in the eyes of the public as a single individual cold en up making a decision that makes the whole house look bad and be prone to negative public opinion. The only way to hedge against this going forward is for the congress to reassert its authority especially when it comes to budgetary as well as legislative powers.Lastly, it is important to note that another contributing factor to the increased negativity of congress in the eyes of the public is the smear campaigns undertaken by opponents during electioneering periods.

Indeed, it has become commonplace for opponents to use advertisements to advance their political agendas hence significantly seeking to dent the other opponents standing as well as reputation. When an individual who was using smear campaigns is elected, some sections of them public is already weary of him or her and in that regard, his ability to represent the interests of the public effectively is largely questioned.

Strategies to restore public’s confidence in congress

Toning down extravagancies

It is important to note that part of what has contributed to the share fare of criticism from members of the public in regard to congress stems from some reports on the media depicting congress members as big spenders who more often than not travel with their spouses staying at exclusive hotels and visiting exclusive leisure spots all at the expense of the tax payer. It is understandable that taxpayers should feel shortchanged given the decreasing levels of disposable incomes as taxes remain significantly high. Hence in that regard, there needs to be deliberate measures aimed at taming the expenses spent on trips abroad; which are the usual culprits as far as big spending is concerned. This way, members of the public will see congress as a body with the interest of the masses at heart rather than their own interests.

Reaching out to constituents

This is another approach that might go a long way towards the restoration of the public’s confidence in congress. Indeed, according to Congress (2010) the ability of numbers of congress to keep in touch with their constituents is of great importance not only for congress but for the federal government as well. The reasoning here is that when the confidence of congress is eroded in the eyes of members of the public, the confidence people have in the federal government shall also tend to dwindle.

Hence in the final analysis, the very health thye united stated democracy largely depends on the ability of members of congress to keep in constant touch with the grassroots. Hence to restore public confidence in regard to congress, members of the hose must come up with a number of strategies designed to ensure that there are significant outreach programs. Though it is virtually impossible to reach out to each and every constituent because of the logistics as well as costs that might be involved, there are a host of other strategies which can be employed.

This includes but is not limited to the use of newsletters, the utilization of video conferencing as well as regular attendance of community forums in addition to participating in interactive discussions either in radio or on television. However, this should not be taken to mean that no face to face contact should be initiated.

At least once in a while, members of congress should tour their areas in a ‘meet the people’ tour where they can interact with people in their day to day lives. According to Congress (2010), this is an issue which has proven challenging for congressmen for close to two hundred years and it is hence time to break the jinx. This in my view shall go a long way towards the restoration of public confidence towards congress.

Straddling the dual obligations

When it comes to the dual obligations of congress (i.e. the nation and constituents), The Gallup Organization (2009) is of the opinion that straddling the same could go a long way to restore the public confidence of congress. As it is already stated in the earlier sections of this text, it is these dual obligations that put senate in a collision course with members of the public. Indeed, saddling the overlapping obligations of the senate has been an issue subjected to debate for quite a while. In my view, and certainly those of others, there is great need for compromise as far as the duty to ensure the needs of the entire nation are addressed as well as the enhancement of responsiveness to the needs of citizens.

Conclusion

Though members of the congress are overburdened with legislative as well as other national and local issues to take note of the waning public support, there is a growing need for them to be more responsive to the whims of their constituents as well s a number of other strategies tailored to enhance their popularity at the grassroots. This is the only way to ensure that they remain relevant going forward.

References

Congress (2010). Congressional Record, Volumes 109-122; Volumes 1963-1966. Government Printing Office

The Gallup Organization (2009). Congress and the Public: Congressional Job Approval Ratings Trend. Sourced from

http://www.gallup.com/poll/1600/Congress-Public.aspx | accessdate = 2009-10-08 on 29th March 2011

Dan Froomkin (2009). Playing by the Rules, Washington Post, March 10, 2009, sourced from

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/white-house-watch/bush-rollback/playing-by-the-rules.html on 29th March 2011

 

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