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The Trust Factor


John Stang – News Editor

Last week, the GOP released its “Pledge to America,” which details its plan for governing this great nation.  It includes the typical rhetoric of the Republican Party that they have been spouting for most of the year.  Some of the complaints include that the government is getting too big, Obama Care should be repealed, Bush tax cuts should be extended, and our homeland should be defended from another terrorist attack at all costs.  Essentially it can be summed up as: Freedom good, lower taxes better, and having the Democrats thrown out of office best!

While I do disagree with about 80% of the content presented in the document, there is one key provision that I think Republicans are spot on about: Americans are losing trust in the federal government and that trust needs to be restored.  This mission has been tried and failed by numerous presidents and a key theme of numerous congressional races throughout the years.  Sadly, it never gets accomplished.

This is one campaign promise that is long overdue.  According to a series of Gallup polls, Americans have a 36% trust rating of Congress compared with 66% of the judicial branch and 49% of the executive branch.  Additionally, Congress ranks the lowest in overall confidence ratings with about 6%.  Some of the institutions Americans trust more are newspapers, churches, banks, big business, and even health insurance companies.  That’s right, big bad insurance companies and big Wall Street firms rank higher than Congress.

For years, the solution has always been more transparency.  The theory is if people can see what Congress is doing they will trust it more.  The other big idea is that most Congressmen do not read the bills before they are put up for a vote.

The new Republican “Pledge” sites one example. “When the House was poised to consider legislation to impose a ‘cap-and-trade’ national energy tax, a 300-page ‘manager’s

Amendment’ rewriting key provisions of the bill without a separate vote was dropped in

the laps of lawmakers at 3:00 a.m. The House began debate on the bill just a few hours later.”

I agree, this is very alarming, but the solutions they propose are not that fantastic.  Their ideas include posting bills online 72 hours before a vote is called, stopping sneaky provisions to be added onto bills, mandating that spending cuts are easier to make, and even state how a bill is considered constitutional before it comes up for a vote. 

Here is the problem, all bills are already posted online at Thomas.gov (the Library of Congress website) and it even updates the public on the status of the bill.  Plus, numerous government agencies post their budgets and current news online.  In fact, the U.S. is probably one of the most transparent governments in the world.  You can decide about the other reform proposals.

I do not think that the answer is to bombard the public with more information.  With everything online and the congressional sessions on C-SPAN, the American public already can know for themselves what is happening with Congress up to the minute.  The problem is in understanding the legislation.  This is where most of the debates get muddy.  Have you ever read congressional legislation?  It is very complicated, vague, and legalistic in style.  It is also very lengthy.  Congressman try to explain it, but it just comes off as partisan sounding.  People do not get the full story.

That is why I propose, in the spirit of Larry Sabato who spoke on campus last week, a new agency outside the government to explain legislation to the people.  It could be called: The Government Explanation Center.  Its job should be to go on talk shows and use the internet to explain congressional legislation to the people.  It can also be a nonpartisan agency.  Agencies like the Congressional Budget Office and the Congressional Research Service already exist and do research for Congress in a nonpartisan fashion and they are outside of the federal government.  The key is that both parties must support the creation of this agency, otherwise it will seem partisan.  This could also be a cool way for students of political science to utilize their love of policy analysis. At least I would love it!

Some might say this would be impossible. If enough people want it, it will come true.  It was just 10 years ago that former manager of TARP, Elizabeth Warren, suggested the creation of a consumer protection agency.  Last summer, it finally became a reality and she will now become the head of it.

The best way for Americans to trust the government is to understand what it is passing.  Only through proper communication will Americans find trust in the federal government.  It is now time for all politicians to “pledge” to make that happen.

To read more commentary by John Stang check out his blog called “Power Walk” at http://wwwstangblog.blogspot.com (no dot after the www).  His opinions are his own and do not reflect those of the Brackety-Ack.