Who Needs Washington?

by Brad Kozak

With one election just around the corner, and the 2012 Presidential election already looming large in our collective consciousness, our thoughts turn to government, specifically why it, well…bites. Can any of us say that our government is an efficient, well-run, responsive organization? Both sides are busy pointing fingers at the other, and nothing productive seems to ever happen. Well, I have an idea how to fix it; it’s radical. It could save a lot of tax dollars. And it could change the way our country is run. Give me a few moments of your time and I’ll explain.

I want to shut down Washington. Permanently.

I want to shut down Washington. Permanently!

Sounds like something one of those Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street types would say. But I do NOT mean to have yet again another budget hostage crisis. I’m speaking of sending Congress home. Having Congressmen work in D.C. is antiquated. It’s an anachronism. And it’s outlived its usefulness.

Washington D.C. is a city that was created specifically as the site for our Nation’s Capitol. Neither in the North nor the South, it was an acceptable location and compromise to all the major power brokers of the time. It was equally accessible/inaccessible (and climatologically inconvenient) for just about everybody. And it was essential to give government a common location, in those days before telegraph, telephone, and tell-an-unnamed-source. In order to have their say, Congressmen had to “be present to win,” at least most of the time. But as the country grew, that put most of them far, far from home, and the influences of their constituents. The longer someone is in D.C., the more they are seduced by the “Washington mindset.” There is even a name for it: “Inside the Beltway Thinking.” But in the era of smartphones, iPads, holographic teleconferencing, and online meetings, what does it benefit us to send our elected officials to Washington, especially when they could be more responsive to our wishes if they stayed home?

Think of it: every Senator and Representative employs a full staff in D.C., a staff, which is duplicated in key parts of their home states. If they worked from “home,” they could cut their staff expenses by a huge margin. They would be physically accessible to their constituents, and could still meet with their peers just as easily online, whenever needed.

They would vote over secure com-lines. We’d encrypt communication, with severe criminal penalties for those who try to hack them. And just think of how much harder the lobbyists would have to work in order to sway votes, not to mention how much more difficult it will be for the news networks to trot out Senator Somnambulist and Representative Redundant for a talking-head sound byte every time nothing happens in Washington.

Then there’s all the temptations of power. Keep these folks home, and they are no longer demigods. They must walk among us, living as we do. It will, by it’s very nature, cut down on bureaucracy. And keep in mind the sage words of the late James Boren: “Bureaucracy is the epoxy that greases the wheels of government.”

So what would we do with D.C. if Congress no longer lives there? I suppose the President would stay. After all, we have to have some place for all the foreign dignitaries to come to collect on those loans. I’d like to say, “turn the whole thing over to the Smithsonian,” but there will always be a need, sadly, for a place to store bureaucrats. With Senators and Representatives at home however, it will be harder for the bureaucrats to exert undue influence over them. From time to time, I’m sure they’d have vital reasons to visit…inaugurations, state dinners and such. But getting rid of Washington as the place where Congress plays…um, works, would keep that to a bare minimum. As for the rest of Washington, we can leave the agencies there – I suspect they will automatically begin to lose much of their staff (and influence) without Congress around. Whatever functions can’t be parceled back out to the states can stay, at least until we come up with a better idea. When Congress needs to make staffing cuts, it will no longer feel like a self-inflicted wound.

Think about it. When your kids misbehave, do you send then to their rooms? Of course not. Most kids’ rooms could pass for Command and Control Op-Centers, with TVs, stereos, iPods, and computers, and sometimes mini-fridges. Wanna punish a kid? Send ’em outside to play. It’s high time we injected a little discipline into that bunch of misbehaving delinquents we call Congress. Let’s bring ’em home and tell them they’re grounded, then, make ‘em play outside…the Beltway.

It’s about time for some tough love.