Today’s issue of Roll Call contains a piece by columnist Patricia Murphy. Though a significant portion of her column focuses upon former Senators running for their old seats, I thought that the real gold lay in some interesting data that illuminates the nexus between the declining length of Congressional Member service and Chamber productivity.
As legislative professionals, we regret the dearth of legislative action; procedural gridlock; partisanship; winnowing away of the ideological middle in both parties; the bipartisan aversion to compromise; and so much more. We’ve all read the many and varied explanations for this problem, but her column illuminates one of my two favorite reasons for this dysfunction. The first, and a constant pet peeve of mine, is that Members no longer know each other, whether it’s within their Party or across the aisle. The second, and the one that Murphy’s column shines a light on, is that legislators’ length of service continues to decline. When you layer their declining service in the institution with the many reasons that they can’t build personal bonds with colleagues, it becomes clear that through term limit pledges and the like, we have institutionalized the structural decline of Member’s ability to “make a mark”. It has been my experience that most truly significant legislation evolves over an extended period of time, simmering on the legislative stove with many cooks from different backgrounds bringing their own unique flavors to the final product.
Adding to my dismay, today’s Washington Post reports the passing of former House Majority Whip John Brademas of Indiana, a true gentleman and legitimate scholar, whose legislative legacy was best measured by the high personal and professional regard with which he was held by colleagues throughout the Chamber, and by the recognition that most of his greatest legislative accomplishments took years to come to fruition. We’re all in this business with the goal of getting things done. The sad truth is that institutional, legislative, and political realities continue to conspire to prevent all of us from realizing that goal.