Sunday, September 22, 2013

Congress Needs to Come To Town Meeting

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on September 16, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            Congress is the legislative branch of our federal government.  It is where our laws are created, our budget is passed, and decisions affecting each and every one of us are made.  It is comprised of citizens who represent other citizens and exercise awesome responsibilities on their behalf.

            And they have done an awful job of it lately.  In fact, this current Congress may well be the worst and least effective national legislative body in our illustrious history as a nation.  Our congressmen and women have engaged in little serious debate, accomplished virtually nothing legislatively speaking, and managed to alienate a large percentage of the voting public.

            They don’t seem to understand the art of compromise.  They apparently have no ability to work cooperatively in an environment that is often hostile and difficult.  They obviously are in need of serious help and advice.  I think I have an idea that might just aid them.

            Let’s invite the entire United States Congress to one of our local Town Meetings.  It might remind them what the point of being a legislative body is supposed to be – making decisions even when it’s difficult.

            It really doesn’t matter which one.  They can come to Plainville, or Norton, or Mansfield, or Foxboro.  They can stop by Wrentham, Seekonk, and Rehoboth.  They can visit the RTM in North Attleboro.  Each and every one of those deliberate bodies does a better job than our current Congress – which is hardly overwhelming praise.

            I don’t suggest this because our local Town Meetings are models of efficiency.  The truth is many of them are unwieldy, obsolete dinosaurs given the size of the communities they serve.

            But one thing they all share is – they know how to make decisions. 

They generally don’t postpone things, ignore things, or refuse to debate difficult issues.  They tackle all propositions brought before them, even the ones that frankly don’t make a lot of sense.  They understand the need to stay as long as it takes to get the job done.

Each Town Meeting also knows how to pass a budget.  They do it every year without fail.  They do it in times both good and bad, when there are budget deficits and when there are surpluses.  They never sidestep responsibility, never pass the buck to another branch of the government, never make excuses why they can’t do the job entrusted to them.

Perhaps our congressional representatives could watch the imperfect yet democratic way our Town Meetings debate the issues of the day.  Maybe they would learn debate can be controlled and yet still be productive, without all the partisanship and stuffiness Congress seems to treasure above actual production.

Town Meeting has to approve a balanced budget every year without fail.  Congress hasn’t approved a balanced budget since Lincoln was President, or so it seems.  Maybe Congress would be impressed by the fact a few hundred citizens with limited political experience manage to perform this important function annually, while our highly-paid professional legislators can’t seem to do the same.

We could manage to find room in the visitor sections for all 535 members of the House and Senate.  Heck, bring the President and Vice President while you’re at it.  They all might all be well served by a first-hand civics lesson and reminder that the people’s business can be done without the level of political animosity they can’t seem to avoid.

I’m sure Moderator Saquet in Mansfield would allow Speaker Boehner to have a seat up front so he could observe.  Moderator Billian would most certainly welcome congressional members in Wrentham, as would Moderator Martin in Plainville.  Each one of those elected officials or any of their counterparts in the area could provide an excellent example of moving government forward, not sideways.

Our expectations of Congress are not unreasonably high.  What they should be doing is achieved on a local level regularly, though admittedly on a much smaller scale.  It is not the difficulty of their task that is preventing them from success, but rather their unwillingness to do what it takes to make it happen.

So come on down, ladies and gentlemen of Congress.  Let us show you how it’s done.  After all, you really can’t do any worse.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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