I’ve noticed something unusual, but very refreshing, this August. At all sorts of different gatherings—whether they are business meetings, social events, or family get-togethers—cheering inevitably erupts when someone mentions that Congress is out of session for the summer. Not half-hearted clapping, mind you, but gleeful, thunderous applause.
Of course, the people cheering Congress’s departure share a common understanding that our current Congress cannot govern itself, or our nation, responsibly. Yet, the larger part of this story is that people are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing and are fed up with what they see—and they want their elected officials to know it.
These sentiments provide us with the perfect opportunity to use August as “Accountability Month,” a time when members of Congress head home to face their constituents. In these encounters with constituents, the members are, ideally, held responsible for their actions in Washington.
How does this happen? Town halls are the most obvious—and perhaps the most important—opportunity for constituents to pose questions to their members of Congress, giving them microphones and a public forum in which the most common grievances, or even praises, can be raised. But, because they are “home,” accountability can also happen in other events around their districts. During past August recesses, members have interacted with citizens at the grocery store, county fairs, in parades, and, during election years, even at fundraisers.
For many people, August is the only opportunity they have to meaningfully interface with their members of Congress. Not everyone can afford to travel to Washington, D.C., on a regular basis and, even if the trip is affordable, nothing guarantees that the member will be available for a meeting with his or her constituents.
However last week our representatives fled their home districts and came back to the House to pass another federal bailout that will cost taxpayers more than $26 billion. Not just any bailout, this was yet another handout to unions, providing them with money to “save” thousands of union jobs. Also, keep in mind that more union workers means more union dues, which ultimately results in more financial contributions to liberal candidates.
It is surreal to think that, during a time when Congress should be on the ground getting feedback from the very people that they represent, they are essentially fleeing their home districts to spend more taxpayer dollars in Washington. Of course, all of these dollars are being spent in flagrant disregard of the people’s will, which makes their high-speed getaway even more unacceptable.
Instead of attending town halls with their constituents, they continue to spend money recklessly—incidentally, money that we don’t have—simply to appease the unions and other special interest groups. For those people who mark August as their sole opportunity to speak with their members of Congress, this is an unmistakable slap in the face.
Yet, there is still much that can be done. These members of Congress may flee from the people, but they can’t hide. From organizing “Town Halls Without Representation” (where the people can hold public town halls—questions and all—with empty chairs to represent the missing elected officials), to making calls and writing letters, or using tips from grassroots organizations, constituents have endless tools they can leverage to hold their members accountable.
Whether they hold town halls or not, members of Congress need to understand that, for the people, August is Accountability Month. It’s time for the people to be heard.