Little Sunshine, Few Lollipops: Part I

| February 16 2011
Christopher Cook

Little Sunshine, Few Lollipops
My Visits with Two Congressmen

Part I

I had a difficult time titling this article. Other possibilities included "My Day at the Capitol" and "Wow, That Was Alarming." I even considered "The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Debt Manchu," but who even remembers that silly movie?

Glibness aside, my day at the Capitol was rather alarming.

I met with two Arizona congressmen: Rep. Paul Gosar, DDS and Rep. David Schweikert. I am grateful to them both, and to their staffs, for taking time out of their hectic schedules to meet with me. Rep. Schweikert welcomed me like a friend and truly made me feel at home. He and his staff also gave me an insider's look at life on Capitol Hill that I will never forget. It was an amazing experience.

The alarming part was not the meetings, it was what I learned in the meetings, especially the meeting with Rep. Schweikert. And, while I am not saying that it's time for everyone to run screaming into the streets, I do think we're just about at the break-the-glass-and-sound-the-alarm point.

Before I get to the grim stuff, however, I'll start with some of the more positive notes.

Neither meeting was a formal interview, where I had a list of questions that I read out verbatim, transcribing the answers. It was more of a conversation, and I took a few notes.

Rep. Gosar began by telling me what he had heard in his most recent trip back in the district. His constituents tell him that the biggest impediment is the Federal government. Literally, it is "in the way."

This we know, of course—especially as conservatives—but it cannot be repeated often enough. The notion is slowly reaching beyond the ranks for conservatives and right-leaning independents: The Federal government isn't the solution to the problems we face, it is the cause of them. (No, not all of them, but a lot.) We must repeat that message until it's clear to all but the most ardent statists.

After that preliminary, the conversation turned to what can be done. In this discussion, Gosar didn't lay out specifics, but he expressed great pride in—and optimism about the strength of—the freshman class.

He said that "interesting dynamics" were developing. The freshmen were extremely upset about the lack of fortitude in the established Republican caucus. They were not happy about the retreat from the promise to cut $100 billion, nor in the idea of a bloated budget, a profligate continuing resolution, or an increase in the debt ceiling without corresponding spending cuts. The freshmen "stood their ground" on the $100 billion, he told me with pride. Indeed, I was informed that the freshman had recently had a "freshmen meeting," and that they were prepared to dig in their heels on this and many other issues. All of us living in flyover country are accustomed to the frustrating excuses our elected officials give for why this or that problem can't get fixed . . . but apparently, this freshman class are "not buying" these excuses anymore. They were sent by the American people to get something specific done, and they intend to do it.

I also became aware, from Rep. Gosar, with some gaps filled in by one of Schweikert's staffers, of an interesting occurrence. It's a bit of inside baseball, but it's instructive:

When the Democrats had the majority, they were keeping votes open for a long time. One presumes this was so that Democrat representatives could finish up that last excellent jam in their drum circle, wipe the gauzy idealistic visions of utopia from their heads, and still make it in time to vote. (Okay, that was a cheap shot . . . though all in good fun. The truth is, congressmen from all parties have exceptionally hectic, packed schedules, and it can be difficult to make it on time.)

When the Republicans took the majority, one of the changes they made was that votes would occur within a fixed (and fairly short) window, and then they would be gaveled to a close at the end of that window, without fail. At first blush, this level of discipline sounds like a good thing, and perhaps it is.

In the first vote on the Patriot Act extension, now well-known for the fact that it failed, the Republicans did indeed gavel the vote closed after a fixed, short period of time. That, in and of itself, may have been okay, but apparently, leadership failed to whip the vote or even adequately to inform the freshman of the vote and its purpose. Rather than just going along, several freshman voted no. Leadership had failed to prep them properly, and they were not about to roll over. This, apparently, was something of a "wake-up call" for Speaker Boehner and the GOP leadership.

Rep. Gosar had to leave for a vote, so we had to conclude. (Interestingly, the vote was a Motion to Reconsider on that same Patriot Act question, since it had earlier gotten botched.) Dr. Gosar's final thoughts were that there is hope to be found in the freshman class' strength and principled fortitude, and that it is up to the citizens of Arizona and the United States to keep up the pressure . . . both on the freshmen, to stand their ground, and on the whole Congress, to proceed with principle and vigor to solve our tremendous fiscal problems.


(Part II here.)

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