Help for Congress

COMMENTARY Political Process

Help for Congress

Jan 15th, 2003 3 min read

Visiting Fellow

For Tom Osborne, winning election to Congress was the easy part.

Having won three national championships in 25 years as football coach for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, Osborne had become a hero in his state. In his first-ever run for public office, he collected 82 percent of the vote in Nebraska's mostly rural third district, despite spending less to win than all but two freshmen in Congress.

But Osborne soon discovered that doing the work in Washington was at least as challenging as winning a national championship. He got named to three committees - somewhat unusual for a freshman from a rural district - and had to jump right in. The workload became so daunting, and his drive to succeed despite the enormity of the workload so intense, that he surprised everyone by turning to a former quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners - Nebraska's arch-rival - for help. J.C. Watts, then the No. 4 person in the Republican leadership, obliged.

Clearly, nothing can prepare someone - even a person as accomplished as Osborne - for the speed at which Congress functions. Americans see it as a creaky institution eternally engulfed in arguments over meaningless minutiae. But the truth is, dozens of votes take place nearly every day Congress is in session. It's virtually impossible for one person to stay on top of the House's rules of parliamentary procedure, let alone the vital issues on which members actually vote.

Of course, here at The Heritage Foundation, staying on top of the key issues that confront Congress is our job. And my colleagues here have assembled all the information an incoming member needs to tackle the diverse issues likely to come up over the next two years.

It's called "Agenda 2003," and it is the playbook in Washington for helping lawmakers rack up victories on behalf on all Americans. "Agenda 2003" addresses more than two dozen issues, from the budget, health care, education and energy to homeland security, missile defense, terrorism, the Middle East and Asia.

The handy, spiral-bound book does all this - and provides lists of experts in each policy area - in just 167 easy-to-read pages. Each policy area begins with an "ACTION" section, in which Heritage boils down its proposal to one sentence. Then, the issue is explained in brief. Action taken on the issue in 2002 is then described, followed by a prediction of what to expect this year.

Take, for instance, the section on homeland security. Last year, President Bush signed a bill to combine 22 agencies and 170,000 employees into one department charged with ensuring the safety of the homeland. The new agency covers everything from border patrol to emergency response to airport security. At present, 88 committees and subcommittees of Congress have jurisdiction over the various aspects of homeland security.

Michael Scardaville, our lead analyst on homeland security, recommends Congress form committees in both houses to address appropriations for the giant new department. He also urges that the new department form an intelligence fusion center where it can collect intelligence from foreign and domestic agencies, analyze it and disseminate it to the appropriate government offices, such as those that grant visas.

A section on transportation, written by former Reagan administration privatization czar Ronald Utt, recommends Congress let states collect - and spend - the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax. It also calls for privatization of airports and the federal air traffic control system and an end to subsidies for Amtrak.

The section on welfare urges Congress to intensify the success of welfare reform "by promoting work, strengthening marriage and expanding abstinence education."

Make no mistake: When people such as Tom Osborne arrive in Washington, there is no shortage of folks waiting to "help" them. It's enough to make a Cornhusker seek out a Sooner.

There are special interests and lobbyists and unions - not to mention more-seasoned members and a thousand other advocates. There are letters from constituents, letters from non-constituents and letters, sometimes, from the White House. It would be easy to lose one's way, to lose track of the principles that inspired one to run for office in the first place.

Here is a book that keeps it all straight, that lays out tried-and-true approaches to most of the problems members of Congress are likely to confront. The price is right - free. It can be downloaded by elected officials, citizens and the media alike. "Agenda 2003" is the playbook for success on behalf of the American people.

-Reprinted with permission of the Internet newspaper .

Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of the Heritage Foundation, a research and educational think-tank whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense. She is also the former vice president of communications for WorldNetDaily and her 60-second radio commentaries can be heard on the Salem Communications Network.