When the Going Gets Tough … Take a Vacation

Congressional Quarterly, in its daily update last Friday, described what is next for Congress:

The House "is done for the next 10 days," having voted to take the next week off (Democrats, to their credit, wanted to cancel the recess for more budget talks). The Senate's "President's Day recess has begun; the next session where something might get done (emphasis added) starts at 2 on Monday, Feb. 25."

Ron Fournier is a veteran political journalist, having worked at The Associated Press in two stints (among other stops) before joining the National Journal. I've always respected his writing.

A short but powerful take from Fournier on the current state of Congress:

The amount of unfinished business is stunning: A vacancy atop the Pentagon’s chain of command, billions of dollars of haphazard budget cuts due soon to take effect, immigration reform, gun control, climate change, and millions of jobless Americans. So what’s a Congress to do?

Take a vacation.

In Washington, it is politely called a 10-day “recess.” Lawmakers explain how hard they work at town halls and fundraisers back home. But their job is to legislate and to fix problems.

If you took 10 days off with critical work undone and deadlines threatening, how would your boss respond?

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The Family Guy

"Sir, I’ve served with family men; I knew family men; family men are friends of mine. Mr. Quayle, you are no family man." This might be Lloyd Bentsen’s response to a political mailer being sent by Dan Quayle’s son, Ben, in his quest to fill the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. John Shadegg in Arizona.

CQ Politics recently blogged about the mailer, which shows the candidate with two little girls, although he himself has no children (see the link to the full blog for a snapshot of the mailer):

Congressional candidate Ben Quayle, son of the former vice president, is raising some eyebrows with direct mail pieces that seem to invite readers to presume he and his wife have more than just themselves and a dog to take care of.

The Arizona Capitol Times’ Bill Bertolino reports that the campaign uses shot above in two mailings. Part of the cutline reads, "Tiffany and I live in this district and we are going to raise our family here."

Writes Bertolino: "Is Quayle intentionally trying to leave voters with the impression that he’s a ‘family man’? It’s plausible.He’s been a frequent target of many of his nine opponents — all of whom are older than him and have children — for what they call his thin resume and lack of life experience."

When asked that question, Quayle’s campaign said the girls in the picture are relatives of a staff member who happened to be at a campaign event.

"I think you guys have got a lot of time on your hands," said spokesman Damon Moley. "They’re just terribly cute kids."

"We are presenting Ben as a pro-family candidate because he is a pro-family candidate," Moley said. "We are presenting him as a traditional-values candidate because he is a traditional values candidate."

So what do you think? Are the media and critics right to say the mailer is misleading, or is it just savvy politics on Quayle’s part and nothing more?

Citizens to Congress: “Don’t Let Door Hit You on Way Out”

CQ Politics has a rather eye-opening public indictment of Congress, as judged by the citizenry:

"Throw the bums out" goes beyond baseball: More than half of voters said they would vote to replace the entire Congress, according to a Rasmussen Reports survey conducted Aug. 27-28.

In the telephone survey of 1,000 voters, just 25 percent told pollsters they would vote to keep the current roster of lawmakers, while 18 percent said they are not sure how they would vote.

The current numbers show little change since October. When Congress was passing the $700 billion bailout plan during the presidential campaign and an impending meltdown of the financial industry, 59 percent wanted to throw out all members and 17 percent wanted to keep them.

With Democrats in control of both chambers of Congress, it’s not surprising that the number of Democrats who would vote to keep the entire Congress has grown from 25 percent to 43 percent.

However, 70 percent of unaffiliated voters said they would vote to replace all of the elected politicians in the House and Senate, up from 62 percent last year.

Among Republican voters, 69 percent said GOP members in Congress are out of touch with the party base.

On health care, the signature issue that Congress will wrestle with when they return, only 22 percent said they believe lawmakers have a a good understanding of the issue, and nearly three-quarters, 74 percent, said they trust their own economic judgment more than Congress’.

Only 14 percent gave Congress good or excellent review for their overall performance, while only 16 percent believe it’s "very likely" Congress will address the most important problems facing the nation. And 75 percent said members of Congress are more interested in their own careers than they are in helping people.

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Congress Calls for Agencies to Simplify Language

Can federal government agencies replace bureaucratic language with plain English?

They may be forced to try under legislation that is moving through Congress. The translation of documents into plain language could be a lengthy process and one that will not come easily.

In a 376-1 vote Monday, the House passed a measure (HR 3548) that would require the federal government to use plain English, understandable to ordinary Americans, in all communications that explain how to file taxes or obtain government benefits or services.

A report from Congressional Quarterly noted that the government has tried several steps over the past few decades to encourage agencies to issue documents in plain language. Former Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton all issued executive orders requiring various government documents to be written in plain English, and agencies have launched their own initiatives.

But readers trying to figure out what the bureaucrats are saying still complain about impenetrable wording. So freshman Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, is trying to goad government writers with a bill that would put the no-jargon requirement into law.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved its version of the measure (S 2291) on April 10. It was sponsored by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii.

“There’s no reason why the federal government can’t write forms, letters, and other public documents in a way we can all understand,” Braley said. “It’s a simple change that’ll make a big difference for anyone who’s ever filled out a tax return, applied for a passport, received a letter from the Veterans Administration, or read a government document.”