Reading time – 4:52; Viewing time – 7:07 . . .
Mr. President, colleagues, fellow citizens, I rise today to speak to the obvious. That I do so is grounded in the Confucian admonition, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” Once so named, the resultant clarity may spawn wisdom.
If we take as most fundamental and do so in unanimous agreement, that we are here to act on behalf of and for the benefit of the American people, and if we use that understanding as the standard by which our actions are to be valued and judged, then it is possible – even likely – that we are falling far short of the mark and that we do so with frightening regularity. Such a condition implores us to identify and name the causes and then deal with them so that we do what we were sent here to do. That it is important that we do so can be substantiated by our approval ratings from the American people, which have languished at a disreputable level below 20% for most of the past two decades. It’s possible we’ve been missing something important.
In a recent report from the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving the working of Congress, they wrote that, “. . . we in Congress need to be much better able to absorb, organize and use knowledge to make laws and policy.” In other words, while living in this age of the avalanche of information, we are woefully deficient in knowledge and poorly skilled at using what little knowledge we have.
Colleagues, I’m confident you’ve experienced this deficit repeatedly and know from frustrating experience that your votes are all too often supported by ignorance and confusion. That isn’t particularly important when we are naming a new post office or agreeing unanimously that the hybridization of watermelons to be seedless has added mightily to the quality of life for all Americans. Yet there are times when we are dealing with issues of great substance and which will have enormous impact on our country and on our countrymen. In such times, ignorance and confusion have no place and serve only to ensure the least beneficial outcomes.
The impact of our ignorance is exacerbated by our own actions designed to protect ourselves, our position, our power and our wealth. We have enacted rules that ensure that predatory sexual behavior by one of our members can be hushed; that allow manipulation of Congressional districts to the benefit of incumbents, rather than that of constituents; that effectively permit one-party rule by declaring the reconciliation of a bill; and that allow leaders to prevent the filling of a Supreme Court vacancy for over a year in order to tilt the court.
Most recently we passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which may have been attractively named, but which was created and enacted in a most undemocratic fashion. I speak now primarily of the process, not to the substance of the bill; that has been examined in numerous exposés and found to fall somewhat short of the suggestion of the label affixed to it. Nevertheless, it is useful to unmask a few examples in order to find our way to a larger view.
Contrary to the claims boasted to our citizens, this bill is not the biggest tax reduction in U.S. history, nor is its design likely to benefit primarily our poor and working class Americans. Indeed, the over $1 trillion debt it will create will be will be summarily dumped upon the backs of our poor and working class, even as it enormously benefits our ultra-wealthy, all protestations in conflict with this notwithstanding. This bill is fundamentally regressive and unlikely to generate higher wages or more jobs for Americans, at least not in numbers remotely resembling those claimed by proponents. Furthermore, like much legislation, it contains provisions that have nothing whatsoever to do with tax reform, some of which greatly benefit many of our own members, but which impact Americans substantively and most often negatively. All of this is listed solely for the purpose of making obvious the question of how we in this deliberative body could have done this.
One answer to that important question lies in our process. This legislation was crafted in secret and by one political party only – everyone but Republican ideologues were excluded. There were no Democratic voices heard at all and few moderate Republican voices. There were no tax or economic or financial experts called upon to provide their wisdom and their calculations of the far reaching effects of this massive change. For the estimate of the impact of this legislation we were left to rely solely upon people largely ignorant of the complexities. So much for our having the necessary knowledge of the impact of what we were doing.
Perhaps as crippling as anything, there were no deliberations on the floor of either house of Congress. There were no open session hearings. There was only the cramming of a poorly considered law through the chinks in our system, this at 1:50AM on a Saturday when nobody was watching.
The entire process for creating this hugely consequential Act spanned only six weeks, the reason for which was the entirely valueless goals of meeting a timetable which was based on nothing more than a Presidential whim, along with gaining the opportunity to crow of having a “win” before the end of the year. The artificial deadline made careful deliberation impossible and that undermined and at last devastated any hope of focusing on benefit for the American people.
To summarize, our process guaranteed that we would be deficient in the knowledge required to create the vehicle most likely to engineer what is best for our people. Further, our rules and our process ensured that we in this august and hallowed hall, with the echoes of giants still reverberating in this chamber, succumbed to enhancing our own security, power and wealth, all to the detriment of our fellow citizens.
With the Confucian admonition in mind, the obvious has been stated and things have been appended with their proper names. It now falls to us to find the wisdom. The voices of our Founders ring through the centuries directly to us, with an unambiguous call that we find that wisdom and act in accord with it. Our people deserve no less and it is our duty to do far more.
Mr. President, I yield the remainder of my time.
Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we’re on a path to continually fail to make things better. It’s my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That’s the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.
YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe (IT’S A FREEBIE!) and engage. Thanks!
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.