September 1, 2014

Places I’ve Played: Dick and the buckle

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Molly and Maude pull the Skiffs in a sleigh. The author and his father stand outside the sleigh, while his mother and cousin Martha take a seat. (Observer courtesy photo)

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Bill Skiff continues to follow Dick’s bridle around—now in the form of a belt buckle. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Bill Skiff

July 25th, 2013 [Read more...]

Guest Column: Congress needs to remember how to make policy

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By Lee H. Hamilton

 

I’ve noticed a recurring question as I talk to people about Congress. What can be done, they wonder, to get Congress back on track? Is our national legislature capable of serious policy making? It’s an institution with very little to show for its efforts.

There’s a reason for this. Few legislators know how to make it work any more—respect the legislative process and know it intimately, have mastered the substantive and procedural details and have the political savvy and skill to move a bill to enactment.

How can Congress improve? A few procedural fixes might help, but the real answer is actually pretty simple: change the way members of Congress work.

First, they need to put in more time legislating on the major challenges facing the country. Only twice this year has Congress been in session for four weeks straight. Its members spend too much of each week at home campaigning and meeting with constituents, and don’t use their limited time in Washington well: much of it goes to meeting lobbyists, legislating on minor if not trivial matters, making the rounds of receptions, and raising funds.

Members have few occasions to get to know one another except in the confrontational settings of committee rooms and the floor of their chamber, and as a result they don’t know how to work together. Just as dispiriting, they know even less about what we sent them there to do: crafting and enacting legislation. It takes skill and perseverance to create meaningful policies that forge common ground among competing interests and ideologies. The time-consuming, difficult work of legislating on complex issues is becoming a lost art.

To begin restoring it, members have to remember that they are a separate, co-equal branch of government. They’ve allowed Congress to become a reactive body. It takes its cues from the president—either in deference to him or in opposition to him, but always with reference to him. Capitol Hill should be an engine of creative policy-making and inquiry, not the place that dynamic lawmaking withers.

This can’t happen, however, if members of Congress continue putting politics ahead of policy making. Many of the bills passed today in one chamber or the other are not even taken up by the other body. They are posturing, not legislating.

I’m not naive. Politics is always going to be important, but it ought not dominate lawmakers’ actions. They can be politicians at election time, but once they reach Capitol Hill our Constitution expects them to be policy makers and legislators. So do ordinary Americans. The partisan maneuvering, the compulsion to send a message rather than legislate, and the lack of solid accomplishment have driven Americans’ disdain for Congress to record highs.

If lawmakers want to reverse this, they need to re-order their priorities. They’ll rein in their partisan instincts. They’ll spend less time asking for money—often from the people affected by the bills they’re voting on—and more on building friendships and relationships among colleagues, especially of the opposite party, who can help them enact legislation. They’ll ignore trivial bills that give the appearance of action but accomplish little, and learn how to do rigorous oversight, with truth-seeking hearings that are fair and balanced.

They’ll master the legislative process, rather than delegating bill-writing and even strategy to staff. They’ll send their polite regrets to the invitations that pour in for receptions, dinners, media appearances and all the other distractions that keep a member of Congress busy, and bear down on the work their constituents sent them to pursue: crafting legislation; debating bills; deliberating with their colleagues and reaching consensus on the serious problems confronting the country.

Here’s the most important part: they don’t need legislation or constitutional amendments or procedural fixes or even years of seniority to start. They just need to go to work and make the Congress and our representative democracy effective at serving the best interests of the country.

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

 

Around Town

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July 25th, 2013 [Read more...]

Credit union employee charged with embezzlement

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By Stephanie Choate 

Observer staff

July 25th, 2013 [Read more...]

New school ‘Calendar 2.0’ forums scheduled

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July 25th, 2013 [Read more...]

Old Stage Road reopens, but more repairs to come

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A crane lifts a section of the Old Stage Road footbridge last Tuesday. (Observer photo by Becka Gregory)

A crane lifts a section of the Old Stage Road footbridge last Tuesday. (Observer photo by Becka Gregory)

 

By Marianne Apfelbaum

Observer staff

July 25th, 2013 [Read more...]

Breaking new trail

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Terry Macaig cuts the ribbon to the Sucker Brook Hollow Trail and Sucker Brook Country Park on Friday at a grand opening for the new trail and park, while Senior Environmental Planner Jessica Andreoletti, who spearheaded much of the work, looks on. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

Terry Macaig cuts the ribbon to the Sucker Brook Hollow Trail and Sucker Brook Country Park on Friday at a grand opening for the new trail and park, while Senior Environmental Planner Jessica Andreoletti, who spearheaded much of the work, looks on. For more photos visit the Web Extras section. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

July 25th, 2013

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World’s top mountain bikers to race in Williston

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Olympic mountain biker and Jericho native Lea Davison is set to compete Aug. 3 and 4 in the Specialized Catamount Classic Pro at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston, the last race in a summer-long series. (Observer courtesy photo)

Olympic mountain biker and Jericho native Lea Davison is set to compete Aug. 3 and 4 in the Specialized Catamount Classic Pro at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston, the last race in a summer-long series. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Phyl Newbeck

Observer correspondent

July 25th, 2013 [Read more...]

Local performer’s act sparks judges’ interest

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Sam Johnson and his 6-year-old son, Phinneas, who likes to imitate his father. (Observer courtesy photo by Denise Johnson)

Sam Johnson and his 6-year-old son, Phineaus, who likes to imitate his father. (Observer courtesy photo by Denise Johnson)

Williston resident in America’s Got Talent quarterfinals

By Heleigh Bostwick

Observer correspondent

July 25th, 2013 [Read more...]

PHOTOS: Sucker Brook Hollow Trail building

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Nine volunteers and two town staff members worked on July 6 to get the new Sucker Brook Hollow Trail in order for the grand opening on July 19, diverting water and building bog bridges. (Observer courtesy photos)

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