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Why Washington is going to keep sucking

Sen. Joe Manchin isn't a big fan of the Senate."This place sucks," Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, tol...

Posted: Jan 25, 2018 12:14 AM
Updated: Jan 25, 2018 12:15 AM

Sen. Joe Manchin isn't a big fan of the Senate.

"This place sucks," Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, told his colleagues recently, according to The New York Times.

Manchin elaborated on those views in an interview with anchor Chris Cuomo on CNN's "New Day" on Wednesday morning:

"I got to the point -- so many good people up here, both Democrats and Republicans, they're all my friends. I work with them. When you get us together, it sounds like we make sense. We want things to work. And all of a sudden, all the power transfers to two people, the majority leader and minority leader, who makes a decision what moves and doesn't move. The majority sets the agenda. I keep thinking my beloved Robert C. Byrd, laying in his grave, he's got to be twisting and turning thinking how did we get to this. We've got to come back to regular order and where other senators have input and our voices are heard, we're able to move the dialogue ... I said the place sucks when it doesn't work. I get a little frustrated at times. I let it fly that day. I probably shouldn't have."

Heck yeah you should have!

Manchin's frustration speaks to a broader frustration that exists within 90-ish percent of the members of the House and Senate. I've heard it from Republicans and Democrats, House members and senators. Congress just isn't what they bargained for. And it just isn't any fun.

In a statement announcing his retirement last September, Republican Rep. Charlie Dent gave eloquent voice to this frustration:

"As a member of the governing wing of the Republican Party, I've worked to instill stability, certainty and predictability in Washington. I've fought to fulfill the basic functions of government, like keeping the lights on and preventing default.

"Regrettably, that has not been easy given the disruptive outside influences that profit from increased polarization and ideological rigidity that leads to dysfunction, disorder and chaos."

Manchin and Dent -- as well as countless other members of Congress who have voiced similar sentiments privately -- are in line with the majority of the American people when it comes to Washington and how it works (or doesn't).

Less than 1 in 5 people (18%) said they approved of the job Congress is doing in a new CNN/SSRS national poll, the lowest that number has been since March 2016. At the time, 76% of people disapproved.

That finding is in keeping with peoples' view of Congress -- which can be described in two words: "Not good."

So, if the people who serve in Congress think it "sucks" and the people who elect those people are deeply unhappy with what they are getting out of Washington, why can't we change it?

The answer to that question isn't easy or simple but, broadly speaking, the explanation is this: There is a disincentive to do much of anything -- particularly if that "much of anything" includes working with people who don't agree with you on every issue.

While people tend to tell pollsters that they want their members of Congress to work across party lines to get things done, when their elected officials actually try to do that, they are punished.

What people are saying, really, is that they like the idea of Congress working together -- but only in a hypothetical sense. If and when Congress actually does something on a bipartisan basis, the reaction is something short of laudatory.

Need evidence? Look no further than the liberal outrage in the wake of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's decision to cut a deal with congressional Republicans and the White House to reopen the government.

The left didn't care that Schumer was pressured into the deal by the 10 Democrats -- including Manchin -- up in 2018 in states President Donald Trump carried in 2016 who were worried about what a government shutdown over immigration might do to their chances of winning in the fall. The view of the left was that Schumer made a bad deal with Republicans -- and a handful of un-loyal Democrats signed onto it. The end.

That reaction is hardly limited to the liberal left. The House Freedom Caucus, a group of several dozen Republicans who equate any sort of compromise with capitulation, have repeatedly hijacked the legislative process -- to loud cheers from the GOP base.

An entire orbit of outside groups have grown up around the desire of voters -- or at least an influential chunk of them -- to elect people who will maintain ideological rigidity in the face of attempts to compromise by the swamp-dwellers of Washington.

If your options were a) work with the other party to get things done but lose your job or b) resist compromise at every turn and have a job for life, which one would you take?

The path of least resistance in Congress these days is to avoid any sort of deal-making and anything that even bares the whiff of bipartisanship. Stick your head up and watch it get lopped off.

How do you solve that problem? Create a primary election process that doesn't reward the most ideologically liberal or conservative candidates. Reform the redistricting process so that the goal of the people drawing the congressional lines every decade is to create competitive districts, not ones that overwhelmingly favor one party or the other. Find ways to increase voter turnout so that the two parties' bases don't have a decisive say in who represents us.

Those are just a few ideas. Unfortunately, with the possible exception of redistricting reform, those ideas are about as likely to come to pass as me beating Steph Curry in 1 on 1.

Which means that Washington will keep sucking. Sorry, Senator Manchin.

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