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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Maybe It’s Time to Throw Out the Entire U.S. Congress

YEARS AGO during one of our family’s dinner table conversations about politics, I said, “What this country needs is a real third party.” My father replied: “I’d settle for a real second party.”

I recalled this exchange the other day while reading about the combination of Re­publicans and Democrats supporting President Bush’s capital gains tax cut for the rich. In a Congress controlled comfortably by Democrats, this Repub­lican president may have the votes to cut the rate from a maximum of 33 percent to a mere 15 percent on the sale of stocks, bonds, real estate, timber and most other capital assets held for at least a year.

“It will be a major blow to the party if we lose this thing,” a key committee Democrat anonymously told the Washington Post, adding: “And I think we will.”

If some observers thought the two major parties were getting to be more and more look-a-like 25 years ago, try 1989!

George Bush vetoes a bill to raise the minimum wage (now at $3.35 per hour) for the first time since 1981. He pressures Con­gress to stick small taxpayers with the bulk of a $300 billion bailout of the corrupt sav­ings and loan industry. He tells Congress that “cleaning up” the radioactive mess at the nation’s nuclear weapons plants, mostly managed by private corporations such as Dupont, will cost $150 billion. Again, the small taxpayers take the battering. With all that, he has the Democrats either going along with him or on the defensive. And Bush is no charismatic leader.

Letters sometimes foreshadow trends. And more of our letter-writers these days are demanding a limited term for members of Congress. Some writers have resolved their fury against the Congress by urging, with a sweeping non-partisanship, the de­feat of all incumbents in 1990.

Joseph Stempnik of Mt. Clemens, Mich., believes that voting out all the incumbents will “eliminate the smell of political ma­nure coming from Washington.” He adds: “Congress has been playing the shell game and fooling 80 percent of the public long enough. The poor cannot have better homes, education, universal health or other needed legislation as long as the administration and Congress are influenced by the wealthy corporations and the ‘wealthy contributors.”

Note Stempnik’s use of the word “poor.” He includes people ordinarily called “mid­dle class.” Increasingly, people are realiz­ing what they have been loath to admit —that middle class people cannot afford the things that used to define the middle class.

For example, in 1950, it took over 15 percent of family income to pay the mort­gage on a house. Now it takes over 40 per­cent of family income, and more people per family are working. A single family bread­winner in 1950, working in a factory, could afford a house and a car. Try that today.

At the same time, the headlines scream about corporate executives making millions of dollars a year for just showing up at the office. They make millions more for agree­ing to leave quietly following a proposed merger or acquisition — the so-called greenmail payments. Politicians in Con­gress are telling their voters that they just cannot make it on $89,000 a year plus bene­fits and perks that bring the value up to $125 000 a year.

I think that the 99 percent re-election rate in the House of Representatives last year reflects far less the mood of the voters than it does the absence of any alternative political choice other than Tweedledee Re­publican and Tweedledee Democrat. More– over, in over 340 congressional districts, there was only nominal opposition to the in­cumbent representative.

This security from defeat leads to the burgeoning of forked-tongue lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Why are some Democrats abandoning their leaders and rushing to support Bush on cutting capital gains taxes — other than their receiving more cam­paign money from the drooling special in­terests hovering all over Congress, other than being wined and dined by those same lobbyists as another part of their “job en­richment”?

This is a short-sighted Congress with a short attention span that is perfectly willing to mortgage the future of America and Americans in return for permanent incumbency.