Editorial: Congress is dysfunctional by design

Oct. 05, 2013 @ 01:46 PM

If you make the bed, you ought to have to lie in it.

Unfortunately, no one in Congress is feeling any of the effects of the shutdown, and likely never will.

They even get to choose whether to continue getting paid. In North Carolina’s congressional delegation, Democrat David Price of Chapel Hill and Republican Robert Pittenger of Charlotte are donating their pay to the U.S. Treasury; Republicans Mark Meadows of Cashiers, who represents Caldwell County, George Holding of Raleigh and Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk are not accepting their pay, though that doesn’t mean they can’t collect it later; and the rest – three Democrats and five Republicans – are still taking their pay. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Republican from Dunn, had the poor judgment to tell Durham TV station WTVD on Wednesday that she is still taking her pay because, “The thing of it is, I need my paycheck. That is the bottom line.”

Well boo-hoo, congresswoman. You know who else needs their paycheck? Everyone. But unlike everyone else who gets a federal paycheck, you’re among the favored few who get to choose.

On Friday, after two days of national ridicule, Ellmers changed her mind, but that doesn't change the central issue.

All over social media, people are saying one response the public should have is to vote against every incumbent – every one, regardless of party. Flush the whole House of Representatives and the one-third of Senate seats that will be up in 2014, see if that takes care of it.

Good luck with that.

Congress has an approval rating of about 10 percent, but last year 90 percent of its members won re-election. How does that happen?

It happens because voters no longer select their representatives, the representatives select their voters. Nearly every member of Congress has a highly gerrymandered district, carved to cater to the ideological extremes. Few – whether on the right or on the left – have a constituency that is a true cross-section of the community anymore.

And that’s exactly how each of the two major parties want it.

Democratic legislatures and Republican ones alike want their seats to be as safe as possible. They squabble along the edges of the results, but their tactics are the same: Pack your opposing party's voters together into one district, pack your own into another. Split precincts if you have to. Cut cities into little bits. Have an isolated pocket of one party's voters way out in the boonies who you'd like packed into a different district? No problem, just send a sliver of district out along a creek or something.

Any individual picked at random on the street might be entirely disgusted with Congress overall, but that person and the great majority of people in that person’s district – whether that person lives in Lenoir, Chapel Hill, Murphy, New Bern or Warrenton – think their own congressman is doing a cracker jack job.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for consequences to felt by those in Congress. There's a better chance that you'll win the lottery jackpot two weeks in a row.