WASHINGTON—Every U.S. citizen should find time to take a trip to Washington, D.C., and witness our federal government in action.
While most Americans travel to this beautiful city as tourists to visit historical buildings, monuments and the emotionally powerful Vietnam and the World War II Memorials, there’s much more going on inside the Beltway.
At virtually every hotel bar and restaurant, men and women dressed in expensive business suits are doing deals and angling for an inside position to benefit unnamed clients.
They make deep eye contact, lean in and use hand gestures and speak in a whisper. Most professional lobbyists and political dealmakers cover their mouths like a Major League baseball relief pitcher talking over the next hitter with the pitching coach.
We can go to the polls and elect our favorite candidates who will promise to do their best for us on Capitol Hill. But, this really is how the laws of the land are crafted—over lunch, cocktails and dinner or in private meeting rooms. The cigar smoke is reserved for outdoor cafes.
While the average American struggles to pay his mortgage, save cash to send children to college, or hunts for a better paying job, everyone who works on the Potomac seems in a state of euphoria. In Washington, D.C., the measure of happiness usually is being elected or serving for an elected politician who is “in for two or four years,” or even better, “in for six.”
Despite all the political rhetoric, things haven’t changed much since this writer’s first trip to Capitol Hill in 1980 with a national group of 2,000 home builders. They came to meet with President Jimmy Carter and protest that 18-percent mortgage rates and 21-percent construction loans were killing new home-construction from coast to coast.
Fifty Chicago-area builders—led by Bruno Pasquinelli, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago—also met privately with U.S. Senators Charles Percy (R-Illinois) and Adlai Stevenson, Jr. (D-Illinois) to lobby for economic relief for the building business and lower home-loan interest rates for consumers.
Although 95 percent of the nation’s families were shut out of the housing market by record-high rates, Sen. Stevenson seemed shocked. He told the builders he “had no idea” that they were paying 21 percent for construction money. The Chicago builders rolled their eyes and collectively groaned.
After the Great Recession of 2008, when the entire for-sale housing industry tanked and Congress was forced to pass a $700-billion bailout of the banking industry, most veteran home builders would say the 1980 crisis was like a kindergarten class.
Long after the bailout, former U.S. Secy. Of Labor Robert Reich noted that beleaguered homeowners and debt-weary college graduates still “don’t have any bargaining leverage with creditors—and that’s exactly what the financial industry wants.”
Fast forward to 2015, and Congress is facing yet another financial crisis. Newly elected U.S. House speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is wrestling with a range of issues from Congressional gridlock to a steadily growing fiscal crisis.
Today, political experts say Washington has saddled U.S. taxpayers with trillions of dollars in future obligations, which grow every day. Outside of massive federal default, future options include huge cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, or a giant increase in taxes.
“Let’s be frank. The House is broken,” Ryan said. “It’s time for us to turn the page on the last few years and get to work on a bold agenda we can take to the American people.”
Over the past two years, Illinois Congress members alone took 70 foreign trips to 44 countries at a cost of more than a half-million dollars, reported a recent Chicago Tribune analysis.
Maybe now it is time for Congress to bail on those international junkets and buckle up for work.
For more housing news, visit www.dondebat.biz. Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit www.escapingcondojail.com.