Jonathan Neil Schneider: Want to Work 112 Days a Year? Run For Congress

I think almost everyone agrees, our health care system is badly broken and in desperate need of repair. To that end, President Obama has pressured Congress to complete its work on comprehensive health care reform before their month long August break. And that, in a nutshell, is why we will never have the kind of health care our elected leaders and their families enjoy.

In 2008, the US Congress was in session for only 112 days (2008 Congressional calender). So why are our elected leaders off almost 70% of the time when critically important issues like Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, the economy, education, and health care require so much attention? Well, to be fair, they’re not exactly off. The truth is they are busy doing what most members of the House and Senate consider their most important job, raising money.

Whether our elected leaders admit it or not, the issue they care about the most is getting reelected. In 2008, the average incumbent Senator spent $7,809,168 on their re-election while members of the House spent $1,343,045. To raise these huge sums of money, our representatives devote as much as 70% of their time to fundraising.

So where does most of this money come from? Primarily from special interests and their lobbyists. Powerful special interests like pharmaceutical companies, insurance providers as well as trial lawyers know that a “good” decision of Congress can mean billions of dollars to their particular company or industry.

Take for example the Medicare Drug Prescription Act of 2003. The pharmaceutical industry, lead by their trade association, PHARMA, not only spent millions lobbying Congress but they also made sizable campaign contributions to several key members of Congress.

It worked. The legislation, written in large part by the pharmaceutical industry and lobbyists, not only prevents Americans from importing drugs other countries (where they are considerable less expensive) but the law also prevents Medicare from negotiating the best possible price with the pharmaceutical industry. According to a 2008 House Committee on Oversight report, this bill increased the pharmaceutical industries revenue over $3.7 billion in 2006 and 2007.

But drug companies weren’t the only winner. Six weeks after the legislation was signed into law, Billy Tauzin, the Congressman who shepherded the legislation through Congress, negotiated a two million dollars a year position as PHARMA new president.

You can be sure that, until members of Congress fear our vote more than the special interests dollars, whatever health care reform comes out of Washington will unfortunately favor their interests and not ours.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If as many people who honored Michael Jackson’s untimely passing showed up at their Congressional representatives offices and voiced their concerns, we can effect change.

Can’t fly to Washington? Your representatives also have offices in their home districts. Members of Congress also have town hall meetings where their constituents can voice their concerns. Find out when and where it is and organize a hundred people to show up.

You can also send your members of Congress an email. There is an editable proclamation at that determines who your elected leaders are and emails them your concerns. We do have a voice. Let’s use it. We can change the way Washington does business!

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