Dear Congress: About your budget efforts. . .



Vote the bums out.

That is the clear message coming from the public opinion polls, which show that Americans are simply fed up with the way Congress, and to some extent the president, has dealt with the federal budget deficit.

And, because the polls are one thing that everyone in Washington does heed, we are now seeing incumbents fashioning anti-Washington campaigns. In a town where reality is defined as where you place the mirrors, the spectacle of U.S. representatives and senators actually running against themselves has a certain logic.

With the November elections less than three weeks away, I thought it was important that you had one last chance to let all of Maryland's eight representatives and two senators know what you think of their recent budgetary efforts.

I've placed their names and addresses at the end of today's column, including telephone numbers if, like most Americans, it's instant gratification that you crave.

Here is a form letter you can clip out to mail. If you cut carefully, you could probably glue it on a postcard and save a few cents.

Dear Senator/Congressperson ----------------------:

I think your work to resolve the nation's budget crisis has been:

1) So good that the voters in your district can't believe their great good fortune. We love you.

2) Admirable enough to warrant a big, fat campaign contribution and re-election with a large plurality.

3) OK, I guess.

4) Poor enough to warrant a big, fat campaign contribution (and my vote) to your opponent this November.

5) (Pick one)

a) Your performance has burned out my olfactory nerves.

b) Shooting you with one of the Pentagon's $385 bullets is too good for you.

c) I am applying to the Oxford English Dictionary to use your work of the past few weeks as a new example of the word "egregious."

d) You should be subjected to daily visits from Jim Wright, wherein the disgraced former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives will tell you what a great guy he is. That, plus four hours of C-SPAN a day.

Such harangues have little to do with the nation's overdose on debt, but they do make me feel better. And that's probably as much as I should expect for my tax dollars.

The only way I can make sense of the damage Congress and the office of the presidency have done to our nation's financial strength during the past 20 years is to assume that these people are drug addicts of a sort.

Without suggesting that any of these fine people may actually use drugs in the usual sense, it does seem clear that they are addicted to the "high" of incumbency.

In other words, being in office is such a trip that most incumbents will do just about anything to stay there. And why not?

Congress and high-ranking members of the executive branch have set themselves up over the past generation as the most privileged elite we have. Think of anything that power can get you, and it's a safe bet that a Cabinet officer or a House or Senate member can get it.

Travel nearly anywhere on the fact-finding mission of your choice. Control the expenditure of billions of dollars of funds. Hold hearings and invite the powerful and famous to testify. Debate the freedom of the world and even the survival of mankind. What an elixir! What kicks!

The salaries aren't great by 1980s greed standards. But you don't need to get paid big bucks when you have a relatively unlimited expense account.

Of course, the dosage of this drug only lasts for one term. So if you want to stay high, you need another fix, another election victory to stay in office.

The willingness of U.S. representatives and senators to do just about anything to stay in office has been displayed with galling and saddening regularity in recent times. Good government stands for little if it might impede re-election efforts.

It needs to be stressed that people who win national office in this country are easily smart enough to govern much better than they do. It's also regularly said that voters may be disgusted with the collective efforts of their representatives but still think their own congressman is doing a decent or good job.

The failure of our governing institutions to do a better job makes the most sense when viewed as a result of lawmakers' concern over being run out of office for making unpopular decisions.

There is such a trail, and it's littered with the remains of many fine people (although not so very many have ventured onto it since former Vice President Walter Mondale was politically eviscerated for telling the truth about taxes during the 1984 presidential campaign).

Here are those addresses and phone numbers for the Maryland delegation, if you still have the stomach for the task at hand. The first set of listings is for a local Maryland office; the second gives their Washington address and phone.

Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, World Trade Center, Suite 253, Baltimore, MD 21202; Tel.: 962-4510. 320 Hart Senate Office Bldg., Washington, D.C. 20510; Tel. (202) 224-4654.

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