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Why We Need A New Constitution: Part 11 of 21

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In what can be referred to as the "pusher" theory of Government, the Incumbents of Congress have themselves created the conditions requiring their intervention:

The nature of the Washington system is now quite clear, ' Morris P. Fiorina, Associate Professor of Political Science at the California Institute of Technology, wrote in a book published last year, 'Congress: Keystone of the Washington Establishment.'

'Congressmen earn electoral credits by establishing various Federal programs,' Mr. Fiorina wrote. 'The legislation is drafted in very general terms, so some agency must translate a vague policy mandate into a functioning program, a process that necessitates the promulgation of rules and regulations and, incidentally, the trampling of numerous toes. At the next stage, aggrieved and or hopeful constituents petition their Congressmen to intervene in the complex process of the bureaucracy.'

'The cycle closes,' he continued, 'when the Congressman lends a sympathetic ear, piously denounces the evils of bureaucracy, intervenes in the latter's decisions, and rides a grateful electorate to ever more impressive electoral showings. Congressmen take credit coming and going. They are the alpha and omega.'[1]

Under the system of rule by special interests, the Congressman has "two principal functions: to make laws and to keep laws from being made . . . . The first of these he and his colleagues perform only with sweat, patience and a remarkable skill in the handling of creaking machinery; but the second they perform daily, with ease and infinite variety."[2] Congressmen can protect your industry - for a price. Here are some examples:

  • '[I]t was found in extensive experiments that cash housing allowances worked better in many cities than the cumbersome, costly subsidy programs. But such allowances were not even under consideration, a White House official said, because the commercial and professional interests that feed off the subsidy programs in effect would surely block such a move.'
  • 'A number of proposed changes long supported by a majority of the people, according to polls of public opinion, have never been enacted because of special-interest pressure. President Carter sent his tax package to Congress assured, on the basis of polling data, that more than 60 percent of the people favored most of the bill's provisions. But in the House Ways and Means Committee, it was turned into a vehicle for reducing the capital gains tax as well as for general tax reduction.'
  • 'In 1974, the Senate passed legislation for no-fault auto insurance, intended to save the public money. The American Trial Lawyers Association, whose members earn money for trying negligence suits, set up a political action committee to contribute to Congressional candidates. In 1973, the Senate defeated the measure. Common Cause reported that it found that five Senators who were up for re-election in 1976 switched their votes from 'yes' to 'no' between 1974 and 1975 and, subsequently, received substantial campaign contributions from the lawyers, who poured half a million dollars into the 1976 campaigns and have continued to make contributions. Last summer, the House Commerce Committee killed a no-fault insurance bill by a vote 22 to 19. The sponsor, Representative Bob Eckhardt, Democrat of Texas, said opposition from the lawyers was the chief reason for the bill's defeat.'[3]
The Rise of Special Interests and the Incumbency Effect

The rise of Special Interest Rule has created an Incumbency Effect; special interests give money to Incumbents, who sit on the committees affecting these interests. A permanent quid pro quo is established - votes for contributions. More contributions means a greater ability to defeat challengers. Challengers, who have nothing to "bring to the table," are at a tremendous disadvantage, as Philip Stern noted in The Best Congress Money Can Buy:

In 1986, out of 214 House contests in which the incumbent sought reelection, GE [the General Electric Pac] backed the incumbent in 211 (including 34 in which the incumbent had no opponent). That is, GE selected the incumbent 98.6 percent of the time. Aside from a single instance where GE backed both the incumbent and the challenger, in only 3 of 214 contests - 1.4 percent - did the GE PAC managers find the challenger preferable to the incumbent. It was as if someone from On High had issued instructions: 'Never mind candidates' party affiliation, their attitudes toward big business, or their need for campaign funds. Whatever you do, support the incumbent.' . . .

[I]n contests where incumbents were seeking reelection in 1986, PACS overall gave more than 88 percent of their money to them and only 12 percent to challengers."[4]

The massive influx of cash worked: in 1986, Incumbents had a 98 percent success rate. [5] Incumbents not only receive money from local interests, but also National special interests, interests that have a great deal to gain financially from the "right" votes:

Dallas's Democratic Representative Martin Frost offers an illustrative case study of the dairy PACs' generosity to such an urban representative. His largely big-city district contains, at most, three dairy farmers - and some 527,000 dairy consumers. Many of the latter have incomes below the official government poverty line and can ill afford to pay the higher dairy prices the government subsidy program almost surely causes.

Therefore, in voting for the higher subsidy level, Congressman Frost sided with the three dairy farmers in his district against the interests of the hundreds of thousands of consumers. Why?

A relevant factor to consider while pondering that question is the $45,050 the dairy lobby had lavished on this big-city congressman in the eight years 1979 through 1986. That made him the fifteenth-highest recipient of dairy money among the 435 members of the House, rural or urban. [6]

Perhaps the most dramatic charts in Stern's book are charts showing extremely disturbing correlations between funds received from special interests and votes on legislation affecting those interests. For example, here are the correlations between money received and votes cast for dairy subsidies:

IN 1979 THROUGH 1986
MORE THAN $30,000
100 %
$20,000 TO $30,000
97 %
$10,000 TO $20,000
81 %
$2,500 TO $10,00
60 %
$1 TO $2,500
33 %
23 %[7]

This effect, visible on recorded votes, must be even more pronounced where the votes aren't recorded - in discussions after-hours and within the committees. In this manner, the fundamental maxim of Republican and Democratic Government, Majority Rule, has been entirely subverted.



[1] The New York Times, November 13, 1978, p. B-9.

[2] Obstacle Course on Capitol Hill, Robert Bendiner (McGraw Hill: 1964), p. 15.

[3] The New York Times, November 14, 1978, p. B-14.

[4] The Best Congress Money Can Buy, by Philip Stern (Pantheon: 1988), p. 33.

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Barry Krusch is president of Intelligent Communities, Inc., sponsors of The Intelligent Community Initiative. He is also author of 2 books, The 21st Century Constitution and Would The Real First Amendment Please Stand Up?
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