Does Congress need to be "shaken, not stirred?" The 2010 elections sent Tea Party supporters to Congress in impressive numbers and stirred up Washington politics, so much so that the president and his fellow Democrats are blaming them for our nation's economic woes. The question then is, was this a flash in the pan or a sign of things to come? Congressional approval is at an all-time low and the administration isn't doing much better.
The "good-old-boy" network, seniority system, and lobbyists' money are blamed by many voters for the lack of confidence in our elected representatives. The number of years a congressperson has accumulated in office is an important factor in determining committee assignments.
A look at who has been in Congress the longest reveals some interesting information. In the House of Representatives, there are 14 members still serving with 36 years or more. John Dingell of Michigan leads with 55 years and counting. Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, who died at age 92 in 2010, holds the all time record of 57 years. Both are Democrats.
In the Senate, 18 of the 26 longest-serving senators are Democrats. They also account for eight of the top 10 spots. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is number 24 on that list with 34 years. Senator Hatch is 77 years old and will be up for re-election next year. His critics make an issue of his long tenure and age. Other notables with long service are Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii who has 48 years; and Ted Kennedy had 46 years. Sen. Strom Thurmond of North Carolina, who had his 100th birthday while still in office, completed 47 years in Congress. He died six months later; he had been a Democrat until 1964 when he switched to Republican. With this kind of record, it's no wonder that in 1997 when a Joint House Senate committee studied term limits their response was, "we don't need no stinking term limits" or words to that effect.
Longevity doesn't tell the whole story; effectiveness is a critical factor and it all depends on how you define effective. All too often a major consideration has been the amount of "pork" delivered to constituents in the state or district. This has contributed to our current financial mess. Money spent or promises made primarily for the purpose of getting re-elected without considering the future costs and affordability also has contributed.
If Senator Hatch is successful in his bid for a seventh term he will serve 42 years, which won't be even close to the record. It's quite reasonable to believe that the good senator considered several factors in deciding to seek re-election. Health and ability would have been high on the list as well as family considerations. He certainly would have considered whether or not he could serve the people of Utah without compromise. He would have asked if it is time to let a younger man or woman take up the burden of effective representation.
If Hatch's record in the first part of the 112th Congress is considered, it tends to support another term. So far this year, he has sponsored 17 bills and co-sponsored another 53 covering a wide range of issues. Bills included are: a balanced budget amendment, protecting children from pornographers, protecting western lands, and right to work laws. Senator Hatch is a man of great stamina and quick wit. He is both dignified and genuinely caring and friendly.
Observing him at town hall meetings or Republican gatherings and other functions, we come away with respect for his wealth of knowledge and the ability to meet the people and inspire confidence. Still, there is the question of "professional politician" that lingers for Hatch's detractors. They wonder if he is part of the problem or part of the solution relative to Congress' extremely low job approval. They and others wonder if Congress needs to be "shaken, not stirred."
Arguing in favor of the performance of Congress is like arguing for approval of the Obama administration's position on the economy which is -- "sure unemployment is high, so are taxes and the national debt and businesses are struggling but, we saved the economy from a total melt down." The question is; how do you prove it?
If we are honest we would recognize that far too many in the U.S. have a cavalier attitude about our responsibility in a representative government. We should ask whether we are part of the solution or part of the problem. And, in the words of "007," do we need to be shaken, not stirred?
Reynolds, a business owner, lives in Pleasant View.