Wyoming needs to avoid Washington’s dysfunction

The dysfunction in Washington was in full view recently as, for the first time in American history, the House of Representatives voted to remove its speaker mid-term. This was accomplished primarily through the efforts of small handful of Republican representatives joining the Democratic party in voting to remove Kevin McCarthy from the speaker’s chair.

The irony in this effort is that one of the primary justifications for the removal of Speaker McCarthy was his willingness to work with Democrats on a spending bill. As a result, the eight Republicans who voted against him joined all Democrats in voting for his ouster, leaving the House of Representatives without a speaker, House Republicans without a leader and the nation again reminded of how poorly things work in Washington. 

The dysfunction in Congress really is striking. Those voting to oust McCarthy demand party loyalty when it suits them but are quick to abandon it as soon as it fits their own purposes. The Democratic party was more than willing to boot the speaker, but with little to no hope that the successor would be better.

There are many valid criticisms of Kevin McCarthy, but the actions last week seemed to be more about sticking it to those you see as politically different rather than accomplishing anything of substance. 

Congress’s problems are more than just internal turmoil. Congress is so deadlocked that it is effectively unable to function. During the Trump administration, Congress was able to pass between 340 and 440 bills during each two-year session.

The 112th Congress, which held office between 2011-2013 and featured a Republican House and Democratic Senate in the Obama administration, was the least productive since modern records began, and it still passed 283 bills.

Our current Congress has been in office more than 10 months and has only passed 13 bills. One authorized a commemorative coin; another renamed a VA facility. None have been very important. Simply put, the political system in Washington is not working.

The reason for this dysfunction lies in the attitude the parties have toward one another. They cannot accomplish anything because the goal is not to seek solutions, but simply to fight the other side. In the recent past, our most respected legislators were those who were able to find solutions across the aisle.

Mike Enzi was a master at building consensus on real problems, working with Republicans and Democrats alike to find common ground. He was unquestionably conservative, and no one could accuse him of failing to stick to his principles, but he also understood that Congress has a real function.

Congress needs to be able to address the genuine issues facing our country, otherwise it becomes impotent as a political entity. The refusal of our members in Congress to work together to find solutions merely means that all the political power now lies with the presidency and the judiciary. The legislative branch simply does not do anything, so it does not matter much anymore.

Those looking to the future in Wyoming cannot help but be troubled by the developments in Washington. It has not happened yet, but it is easy to picture the same problems we see in the nation’s capital mirrored here in Wyoming. There are plenty of members of our own legislature who are more concerned with scoring points against their political opponents than in doing the real work of governing.

Far too often, we see elected officials engaged in conduct intended solely to tear down their opponents.  This is the same attitude that has led our Congress to a dysfunctional and purposeless state. We see personal vendettas or attempts to gain power for power’s sake, but little effort into developing thoughtful solutions. Our legislature has not yet hit the wall of total dysfunction, but there have been moments when it seemed close. 

To combat this danger, responsibility lies first with the voters. We must respond to the bad acts and bad attitude. If there is one thing politicians respond to, it is the risk of losing reelection. If we punish the bad actors, the conduct will surely change.

The second hope is that some of our public leaders will exhibit the courage to break out of the current patterns of conduct and seek real solutions. We need more Mike Enzis and fewer Matt Gaetzes. Both Wyoming and Washington would be far better off if we focused more on the problems and less on our opponents.