Our constitution is not a perfect document. Often, the passages that we wish would give us some guidance are hopelessly vague or reflective of a time when it was actually conceivable that two thirds of both chambers of Congress could agree on anything. One thing the constitution is quite specific about, however, is who gets to be a member of Congress. Article 1, Section 1 established that we will have a Congress. Immediately after creating the House and Senate, the founders jumped right into what qualifications a person eligible for election to Congress needed to be a member of one of those chambers.
There aren’t many things asked of you – representatives in the House must have been a citizen for at least seven years, they must live in the state they represent at the time of their election, and they must be at least 25 years old. Senators, mentioned one section later, must be 30 years old. Despite the order I used for dramatic purposes, the age requirement comes first. Being an adult is so important to being a member of Congress that they put it on the first page. Clearly, the founders had some interest in making sure the people tasked with running the federal government were grown-ups. Yet here we are.
If recent news around healthcare has seemed too frantic for you to keep up with, you’re right. Who else seems to have not always known what is happening with healthcare? Many members of Congress. As I write this, I have no way to expect where the healthcare debate will go between the time this article is sent in and when it is published. I cannot draw examples of the current form of the legislation because I do not know the current form of the legislation.
Every members of Congress may have all attained 25 of 30 years of age for their appropriate chamber, but do not mistake age for maturity. This is not what a group of people solving a problem like adults looks like. Adults understand that actions have consequences. They weigh those consequences against the benefits they expect to receive from making a certain choice. Adults work together to create compromises. They attempt to inform their opinions with facts. They seek advice from others when they are conflicted. Adults think ahead.
Congressional processes have similar steps. When major legislation is considered, the bill in question is sent to a committee that can hold hearings on the issue. They can commission studies and employ the knowledge of their members. The normal legislative process sometimes even involves members of both parties. When a committee’s work is done, the text of the bill being voted on is typically available for representatives and the public to read.
The Obamacare repeal process has been irresponsible from the very beginning. Republicans set themselves up for this situation when many partisans used promises of undermining Obamacare to win elections for the better part of a decade. According to every plan the Congressional Budget Office has scored, this will not lower premiums like some members promised. This will not make healthcare more affordable. Tens of millions would lose coverage should any of the plans CBO has scored be put into effect. To hide this, the strategy coming out of Capitol Hill has been to undermine democratic norms to push through anything that can get 51 votes in the Senate.
When all of the plans that have been put forth in either the House or the Senate are taken together, it is difficult to find a unifying ideological theme. It is even more difficult to see how the plans that have been put forward match up to years of campaign promises. I believe that through these plans, we can see how Republican members of Congress are not living up to what I see as the spirit of what founders asked of each of them.
On the surface, the three requirements to serving as a representative ask for certain boxes to be ticked regarding age, citizenship, and state of residency. The reason these three things were so important as to be the very first thing the founders wanted to make clear right after establishing the center of American democracy is because they each represent what we want our government to look like. We want citizens because we want our representatives to hold our country in high esteem. We want representatives who live in their state because we feel that democratic representation requires a member to know the place they serve. We ask for age because we want our members to be responsible in the decisions they make about the future of the country.
I love public policy. I really do wish I could be writing a dreadfully dull piece about why some arcane insurance mechanism has profound impacts on another arcane insurance mechanism. I am an adult, however, and sometimes adults have to do things they do not want to do. It’s time for members of Congress to act like adults too.