A beacon of hope from an otherwise dark Congress emerges from Arizona as one of their own asks them to "put their money where their mouth is".
Only a year ago it was business as usual in Washington. The people were frustrated – really frustrated. Chief among their grievances against the political leadership was the charge that they were no longer listening to the people. Trust in the government had plummeted. Confidence in its ability to work cohesively for the common good was on the slide. Congressional approval ratings nosedived to an all time low of 14%. Angry voters, finally fed up, confronted the seemingly deaf legislators at Town Halls across the country. Then, sparked by an MSNBC host' s call for a ‘new tea-party', Americans dissatisfied with the representation of both Democrat and Republican lawmakers, began a new movement to make themselves heard. The people began to reject traditional party affiliations and organize themselves. As a result, the first significant change in voter demographics gave impetus for a new voice - by the people.
Pew Research Center released a surprising report last spring documenting the emergence of this spontaneous movement. The polarization of the Democrats and Republicans was greater than at any time in nearly a century. But, even as poll after poll showed the divide was wider than ever, Pew reported that voters, increasingly leery of government regulation and spending, were deserting both in record numbers and meeting in the middle. For the first time in seventy years more voters identified themselves as ‘independent' of either of the two mega-parties. Yes, you read that right – for the first time since the Great Depression, independent voters outnumbered both Democrats and Republicans. For millions of disaffected voters this was huge. Too many felt ignored for too long by the very people elected to represent them. Feeling frustrated and forgotten in the endless power struggle and pathological partisanship on Capitol Hill, voters were moving en masse to distance themselves from both parties.
According to Pew, Centrism had emerged as a dominant factor in public opinion as the Obama era began. A year later this new shift has grown into a formidable bloc of voters large enough to possibly determine the outcome of the 2010 and 2012 elections – and it is attracting more former partisans every day. Both party behemoths are continuing to hemorrhage members at an alarming rate. Although the Democrats have lost slightly more of their base than the Republicans, both are losing them to the independent movement. Despite the fact the Dems like to portray independent grassroot movements as dominated by violent kooks, right-wingers and racists and the Republicans try to claim them as an extension of the GOP, the truth is that neither party seems to grasp the nature of this historic shift. As the two parties move even further apart ideologically the more moderate majority is coming together.Even though Pew reported almost a year ago that, "Thepolitical values of independents are mixed and run counter to orthodox liberal and conservative thinking about government." neither party seems to be listening – or are they?
A remarkable member of congress stepped up this week and asked her colleagues to put their money where their mouth is. In what is sure to be an unpopular move with her fellow lawmakers, Congresswoman, Ann Kirkpatrick, D-AZ, introduced a new bill to cut the pay for members of congress by 5%. Although the annual savings to taxpayers would be less than five million dollars per year (congressional salaries are $174k + per yr), Rep. Kirkpatrick noted that with congressional approval ratings under 20 per cent, she thinks its time the American people started docking their pay, "The last time Congress took a cut in pay was 77 years ago. I don't know anyone who has not had a pay cut in 77 years, she said. "I'm putting my money where my mouth is" she added, "I'm leading by example and I hope my colleagues join me". And she's not kidding - she has already begun voluntarily applying 5% of her monthly pay checks to pay for the national debt! She joked in a FOX News interview that this hasn't made her the most popular member of the House of Representatives, but it is gaining bi-partisan support. In fact, as of yesterday, 21 fellow legislators - both Democrat and Republican – had signed on as co-sponsors. Only 2 1 out 500, but it's a start. More important, Arizona has a new Congresswoman who ‘gets it'. A savings of five million dollars will hardly pay down the national debt, but taking a 5% cut in pay – especially when 100% of their office overhead, travel, food, mailing, phone service, entertainment and more already paid for by the taxpayers – would certainly signal a symbolic solidarity with the people they purport to serve.
In a era of obscene conspicuous consumption where professional politicians obsessed with their re-election and keeping their nose in the public trough, live like royalty on the tax dollars of hard working Americans it would be reassuring to see them sacrifice something. Even as they propose taxing "Cadillac health care plans", but maintain their own fat cat, super-posh plan and threaten our retirement by borrowing our Social Security while protecting their own platinum-plated pensions and benefits, driving around in limos talking on cel phones and eating out in expensive restaurants - all at the expense of working Americans - a few of the more transparent have already suggested they have contributed ‘enough' because they didn't get a pay raise this year. These pampered professional political parasites who intend to spend the rest of their lives on the public gravy train need to be weeded out this fall and replaced with representatives who are there to serve the people – not themselves. How do we tell who is for us and who is for themselves? I think the new Rep from Arizona just suggested a great litmus test.
Like Representative Kirkpatrick says. "Is it too much to ask congress to take a 5% pay-cut? I don't think so". I don't think so either. OK, Congress, the balls in your court – how are you going to play it?
BD Fenton is a freelancer hiding out somewhere near the beach in Southern California. Check out his blog at: http://bdfenton.wordpress.com/