For eight years I was a proud Member of the House of Representatives, truly believing that my job was to serve my country and the people that elected me. I wanted to get things done for the American people, even if that meant breaking ranks with my party at times for something I believed in, or reaching a compromise that ultimately served the interests of the voters. There doesn't seem to be much bipartisan sentiment these days, with everyone simply trying to get their sound bite on television and to outflank each other with how far right or left they can prove themselves to be, when in reality, most of America relates to the political center.
Just look at your approval ratings -- the latest polling data shows the numbers around 12 percent, which sounds great compared with the nine percent some polls were showing a few weeks ago. They like to pick on my friend John McCain for his running joke whenever approval gets low, saying "we're down to paid staffers and blood relatives." Senator McCain seems to be the only one on the Hill that notices how bad it's gotten out there, because no matter how frustrated the people get, the partisan bickering just gets worse.
On top of it all, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction announced two days before its deadline and three days before Thanksgiving that it was unable to reach an agreement that would reduce the budget deficit by $1.2 trillion and prevent automatic budget cuts from being enacted.
Is that because the members are too concerned with getting home to turkey dinner to worry about the pathetic condition of the American economy, or because the 12 members of the Super Committee have received at least $41 million in campaign contributions from the finance, insurance and real estate sectors during their tenures in Congress to ensure that their precious tax loopholes are kept in place?
The commercial banking industry is about to set its sixth consecutive record for spending in lobbying this year, spending $47 million so far this year alone and over $4 billion since the year 2000. A group of 20 corporations has spent more than $1 billion in a combination of lobbying and campaign contributions to gain additional tax breaks from the government that could total $79 billion over the next ten years, all while moving millions of dollars in profits overseas -- and we wonder why we can't close the budget deficits.
President Obama is no better, having raised nearly $90 million so far for his and the DNC's campaign coffers, with more cash coming in from Wall Street than all the Republican candidates combined. His top fundraiser, John Corzine, had to step down because his firm, MF Global, found itself being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI when customer accounts were suddenly found to be missing hundreds of millions of dollars. These are the thieves that are funding campaigns, and demanding taxpayer money in return later, and we can't simply keep printing money and running deficits, expecting the problems to go away.
Is this really the best we can do? Our economy is in real trouble; fourteen million Americans are unemployed and ready to work, wondering why their president and congressional leaders on both sides can't stop bickering and keep their hands out of the special interest cookie jar to focus on what matters -- controlling federal spending, fueling economic growth and creating jobs. We keep missing out on opportunities to show the American people that they are what matters. It's time for the president and members of Congress to quit worrying about who to blame for the problems and start worrying about how to fix them.
Here's what we need to do immediately:
1. Abandon the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Most Americans are upset about its failure, and rightfully so -- after all, if most us walked away from the duties of their jobs two days before a deadline, they'd be fired -- but this group was owned by lobbyists from the beginning.
2. Conduct a one-time, up or down vote on the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (the Bowles/Simpson Commission) before Christmas, after one week of debate, ten minutes per member, while America watches. The proposal combines spending cuts and revenue increases to reach $4 trillion in savings, far beyond what the Supercommittee was unable to achieve. The president must lead on this issue. We are running out of time.
3. Reinstate a version of Glass-Steagall and institute other regulatory measures to keep banks and financial institutions from becoming too big to fail so that we can prevent future financial crises. Of course banks want deregulation -- they can take more risks with our money, and expect us to pay them for it when they lose it all. We need smart investing to fuel the economy, but risky investing hurts everyone.
4. Bring the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act, or the China currency bill, up for a vote to take back some of the unfair advantages that China is using to maintain an extraordinarily large trade surplus. Our manufacturing industry, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, can't compete when the other player cheats at every possible turn. You wouldn't have a sporting event without referees; it's time that we start calling penalties on China's unfair trade practices.
Some of these items make members of my party a little uncomfortable, and that's okay. Isn't it our job to question one another, and to push each other outside our comfort zones, to make sure that we are doing what's right for the American people? Are you going to show real leadership in this time of need, or are you more concerned with getting reelected using money from major donors with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo? I promise you, if you make the right choice, the money won't matter. You'll get reelected for what you did for the American people, not what you did for the corporations.