Sense and Sensibility: Why the American Government has neither

Rick Perry

By Zach Gorwitz.

I am a politically involved college student and I am angry. I am angry that dollars in campaign funds mean more to elected officials than dollars in the college funds of constituents. I am angry that the first time I am able to vote will be in the midst of the most unproductive Congress in United States history. I am angry that a group of people with so many college degrees could be so willfully ignorant of the facts.  I am angry because our democracy is broken.

A June Gallop poll puts Congress’ approval rating at 10%, yet by some miracle, the 2012 elections saw a 90% reelection rate. It is proven by every headline emanating from the newspapers, nightly news, and Twitter: the American Government is dysfunctional, disconnected, and downright dumb. When you look at some of the issues state and federal governments have (failed to) tackle over the past couple of weeks, you’re probably angry, too.

You probably heard about a Texas State Senator named Wendy Davis. She became an overnight sensation for a 13-hour filibustering crusade against legislation in the Texas Senate that would limit access to abortions, making Texas one of the most difficult states in which to obtain an abortion. She succeeded in filibustering the law to session’s end, only to have her efforts thwarted by Gov. Rick Perry, who called a special legislative session so the law could pass. For Perry, who championed such an abortion law, it was a smart political move. Lawmakers ostensibly passed the law to improve quality of care by holding abortion clinics to hospital-style standards. Republican State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg contended, “It is time these clinics put patients ahead of profits.” Furthermore, Gov. Perry triumphantly claimed, “Today the Texas Legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life.”

Ironically, both Laubenberg and Perry are wrong, as the law is dishonest and damaging to women’s health on both a policy and personal level. This week, the New York Times ran an article on alternative abortion methods. These alternatives, often in the form of an unregulated, black-market pill from Mexico, are much more damaging to women’s health. They can result in birth defects, partial abortion, or even permanent reproductive damage. The Texas legislators conveniently ignored that fact. The abortions will not stop as a result of this law. However, the legal, safe, regulated ones will cease to exist. Thus, not only is Gov. Perry NOT protecting the life of the mother, but endangering the life of the mother. I understand the issue is complex. I don’t believe abortions should be encouraged. However, that is not my, the government’s, or anyone except the parent’s, choice to make. The ability to safely control one’s life should never be restricted. Gov. Perry and the Texas Legislature may be pro-life on the record, but there is nothing supportive of life in their legislation.

The lack of sense and sensibility is ever more apparent when looking at immigration, another issue Texas is familiar with. Reform to our broken immigration system has been relevant and hotly contested over the past few months, and after multiple plans and policies were floated, the Senate passed a law with bipartisan support. So, what exactly is so terrible about that law that has brought it to a halt in the House of Representatives? For starters, it increases border security. Then, it will increase the number of visas available for skilled workers, making sure students educated in American universities can stay to work in American corporations. The largest component of the law would be to not deport the 11 million people living in the United States illegally. Instead, these immigrants would be permitted to become citizens after an arduous path of back taxes and fines. Many representatives (mainly Republicans) oppose such legislation because it seems to reward illegal behavior.

But, not only is living a life relegated to the shadows and waking up each day in fear of being deported punishment enough for this behavior, but the alternatives are far worse. Deporting all these people would cost billions (an action President Obama actually used executive authority to halt back in 2012) and leaving the situation as is would mean forfeiting millions of dollars in tax revenue. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates this law would decrease the federal deficit by $158 BILLION dollars by 2023. Last I heard, reducing the deficit is good, common sense policy, so once again what is the hold up? The delay is political. Speaker John Boehner has yet to allow the bill to come to a vote because “a majority of the majority” does not support it. Acting in political self-interest to maintain his speakership, Boehner has arrested a bill that has already passed the Senate, would pass the House, and would be good for our country. Not only is this good policy, it’s also good politics. The GOP was shellacked by Latino and Asian voters in the 2012 elections, and this legislation appeals directly to those growing populations. Either the GOP wakes up or is relegated to irrelevance in 2014, 2016, and beyond.

The out-of-touch members of the GOP did not stop there. Last week, the customary farm bill was passed. As Politico reports, for nearly fifty years, the farm bill included both agribusiness subsidies and food aid (food stamps) in one comprehensive package. This year, that streak was broken. The cuts were made in the name of fiscal austerity but, as Paul Krugman wrote in a recent New York Times column, the money saved from cutting these food stamps will be injected into the $9 billion dollar crop insurance program that serves to benefit large corporations. These cuts will directly affect the 23 million households the USDA estimates use food stamps.

Rep. Steven Fincher (R-TN) used the Bible in his argument on the House floor, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” What was the unemployment rate in ancient Israel again? If Mr. Fincher went on to read more Bible verses he may have stumbled upon Isaiah 58:10.It reads, “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” But this wasn’t just a partisan vote. Eight democrats voted for this stripped farm bill. Unsurprisingly, OpenSecrets, a government accountability organization, found that all eight of these congressmen received campaign donations from agribusiness corporations.

I understand wanting to make abortion clinics safer, I understand being hesitant on immigration because it may cost too much, and I understand sensible cuts being made in the name of fiscal responsibility. What I do not understand is how the people chosen to represent us can engage in such bold face lies about why they truly vote the way they do. This lack of empathy and respect for Americans needs to end, and create that change, I need you to get angry with me.




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