Congress Needs To Bridge The Gap Between Stated Values And Actions
The Congressman from New York furiously directed these words at his colleagues in the House of Representatives. “You vote yes if you believe yes,” he continued. “You vote in favor of something if you believe it’s the right thing!” Following a devastating tragedy affecting his home state, Congress neglected to pass legislation to provide aid to those affected, many of whom the Congressman represented, and he was irate. The House of Representatives neglected to vote for the aid package for reasons broader than whether or not the aid was considered essential, and representatives of both political parties were understandably frustrated.
The above exchange occurred not last month, but in the summer of 2010 over a bill to provide healthcare to those affected by the terrorist attacks of September 11. The Congressman in question, Anthony Weiner, was reported to have directed his rant at fellow Congressman Peter King, also of New York, who was not supportive of the legislation. Though Weiner ended up resigning in scandal, his speech continues to highlight the reason that many view Congress in such a negative light. Politicians love to throw around “values,” but until they stop placing politics ahead of principles, their credibility will continue to suffer.
The measure for relief for Hurricane Sandy victims eventually passed, but not until January 15 – almost a full three months after the storm hit. The failure to pass a relief package to provide aid for those affected is neither the first nor the last time that the best interests of Americans are overlooked, but rather only the latest inefficiency of an increasingly dysfunctional political process. President Obama, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and an array of Congressman across the country from both parties expressed dismay toward Congress for its failure to act quickly.
One such Congressman, a Republican from New York, called Congress’ hold-up of the aid “an absolute disgrace,” and publicly criticized Speaker of the House John Boehner. He became so frustrated by the process, in fact, that he briefly entertained the idea of leaving the Republican Party. Who is the Congressman in question? None other than Peter King, the politician on the receiving end of Anthony Weiner’s rant about doing what was right as an elected official. But this time, when something close to him was negatively affected by inaction, he was the one fed up with political games.
The final aid package eventually passed 241-180, with an alarmingly high number of Congressmen voting against it. Representative Paul Ryan, who voted against it, said, “maintaining the existing flood insurance relief program was irresponsible.” Yes, government spending is a problem that the country will have to seriously examine. But should voting against aid to a part of the country that was significantly damaged by a hurricane really be considered “irresponsible”? If Sandy had instead been a tornado that had blown through Wisconsin, would Paul Ryan have had a different opinion? Well, prior to Hurricane Sandy and prior to the 9/11 responder healthcare debate, 2008 featured severe flooding in parts of the Midwest. Ryan urged his colleagues to quickly and thoroughly authorize aid to the affected states – one of which was Wisconsin.
Ryan is elected to represent his constituents, but he is also part of the United States Congress, something that exists for the benefit of all Americans. Those in Congress cannot continue to only preach values when it is convenient to them. Politicians, people who are elected as public servants, seem to have forgotten the most basic value of all: help. As Representative Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey said after the Hurricane Sandy aid fiasco, “We were there for you, Florida, when you had your hurricane, and God bless you if you think you are not going to have another.”
This past election cycle, we were reminded of all of the ideals and ethics that our politicians claim to support. Pro-life, pro-choice; supporting tax increases and supporting tax deduction; supporting same-sex marriage and opposing same-sex marriage. While differing viewpoints on controversial issues are expected, everyone should agree that helping others in a time of need is a value that Americans are proud to personify, and one that all Americans must continue to embody. As more and more issues come to light in this important time, the cycle of political games cannot continue. This country simply has too many things that need help. Tough decisions will have to be made, but as former Congressman Weiner urged, it is up to our politicians to make the right ones.
Reach Contributor Mathew Goldstein here.