Congress has many clunkers

An old saw holds that no one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session — reason enough to cheer Congress’ August recess.

Yet this year’s break comes at a very opportune time. Georgia’s members of Congress have plenty of questions to occupy them during their time off, starting with:

What’s in the latest version(s) of the health care bill?

This year, there has been much speculation that few members of Congress had even read, much less understood, the lengthy bills they were passing so hastily.

With 33 days off, members have plenty of time to read the latest drafts of the legislation – and to find the unpleasant surprises sure to be lurking in them.

As they read these tomes that make “Gone With the Wind” look like a short story, they might ask:

Can Washington accurately forecast the real cost of a new, $1 trillion-plus health-care entitlement, given that the $1 billion in “cash for clunkers” money ran out two months early?

Was up to $4,500 per car too sweet an offer? Can we trust the same bureaucrats to know how much to pay for a tonsillectomy? Doesn’t this episode prove that the best fiscal stimulus would have been an immediate tax cut, perhaps through FICA levies, because citizens know best how to spend their own money?

And speaking of how money is spent:

What would the health care reforms do about fraud?

Newt Gingrich is pushing the fraud issue hard, arguing that Washington should first “stop paying the crooks” for things such as services billed but never performed. His Center for Health Transformation estimates that $100 billion a year in public health spending is fraudulent. So, too, may be up to one-tenth of all U.S. health spending.

Polling firm Zogby reports that the health care reform with the most support among Americans is eliminating fraud, at 88 percent. Politicians, Gingrich says, “have to be almost suicidal to walk away from that” sentiment.

But they’d be wise to look into:

Which other states are at risk of losing their drinking water?

A federal court ruling last month in Georgia’s long-running “water wars” with Alabama and Florida charges Congress with resolving how to use Lake Lanier’s water. Because human consumption wasn’t an original purpose of the reservoir, metro Atlanta will be very thirsty if a new pact isn’t reached before the taps are turned off in 2012.

One way to gain support for a solution in Congress is to show how some other states could face a similar problem one day. Also key will be harping on the harmful economic and environmental consequences of building new dams to replicate what we’ve gotten from Lanier for years.

Both should be priorities for our members, as is asking:

What are the contingency plans for local and state officials?

A water deal in Congress is no sure thing; nothing in Congress is. Deal or no deal, our delegation might make clear that folks need to have Plan B in the works.

And while talking to the locals, a congressman might wonder:

Is someone here going to give me a real challenge in next year’s election or – gasp! – primary?

2010 already has the look of a “throw the bums out” election. It might not be a partisan thing as much as it is an incumbent thing.

People of all political leanings are mad: about bailouts, about the stimulus and deficit, about health care bills they see as too liberal or not liberal enough. Next year’s election begins with this month’s listening tours.

Incumbency still has advantages. But the public mood is getting worse. A warning for incumbents: Taking your seat for granted is a good way to lose it.

Note to readers: Kyle Wingfield will begin blogging daily later this month. Commenting on this blog will open then.

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