These days it seems like federal lawmakers are always campaigning. The U.S. Constitution calls for members of the House of Representatives to run for re-election every two years. These rules were established in 1789 and have not been changed in the subsequent 225 years.

The world in which lawmakers operate,however, has changed dramatically.

In the country’s early years, for example, many members of Congress undertook treacherous, weeks-long journeys just to make it to Washington, D.C. News of their activities in the nation’s capital would often take days or even weeks to make its way back to their constituents.

This allowed lawmakers to engage in the difficult business of negotiating with one another and legislating without concern that every turn of the screw would be over-analyzed by the media (and in turn the voters) during a 24-hour news cycle. It provided lawmakers with “wiggle room” to compromise and pass significant pieces of legislation. “Campaign season” was not a ubiquitous phenomenon the way it is today. Many campaigns would last only weeks.

In other words, with respect to actual policymaking, a two-year term for members of the House of Representatives was a lot longer back then than it is today. For months now, most members of Congress have been in full-fledged campaign mode. Constantly fundraising, traveling home to campaign, and focusing on priorities that are good for their reelection chances rather than good for the country.

This is not all bad, of course. Biennial elections give voters an opportunity to “push back” against what they perceive to be unwise policymaking. This occurred in 2010, for example, when the voters responded to Democrats’ passage of the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill by handing Republicans control of the House. But Members of Congress have great memories, and many Republicans in the House today have been living in fear of suffering a similar fate as their Democratic colleagues did in 2010. This is why Congress has not been as productive as many Republicans one year ago had hoped.

And, if you believe the polls, Republicans have a reason to be concerned. President Trump’s approval rating remains below 40 percent; Democrats lead by approximately 10 points on the generic Congressional ballot; Republican lawmakers are retiring at a rapid pace; Democrats are recruiting more well-qualified candidates than they have in previous years; and the opposition party almost always gains ground in midterm elections.

Nothing is guaranteed of course. Democrats have to net at least 24 seats to regain the House, and they still have a lot of obstacles to overcome due to, among other things, gerrymandered congressional districts that are heavily favorable to Republicans. Some estimates suggest that these gerrymandered districts necessitate Democrats to win at least 54 percent or more of the national House vote in 2018 to regain control of the lower chamber. This is a difficult but not impossible task. The last time Democrats had such success was 2006 during the height of the Iraq War. They had similar success in 1982 during President Reagan’s first midterm and in the post-Watergate midterm of 1974.

The point being, of course, that Congressional Republicans fear that they are vulnerable to a Democratic wave and are acting accordingly. Depending upon the Member and his or her district, there is a constant fear that any decision could bring well-qualified, well-funded challengers.

Moderate Republicans in swing districts are concerned that any indication that they support policies espoused by President Trump could cause their constituents to turn on them. More conservative Republicans, on the other hand, are living in constant fear that any willingness to compromise with Democrats or deviate from Republican orthodoxy could lead to primary challengers attacking them from the right. Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former White House adviser, has made it his personal mission to identify and support such primary challengers.

This is not a recipe for productivity in Congress. Lawmakers who are in constant fear of losing their next election inevitably find it difficult to adopt policies whose positive effects will not come into view until after the date of the next election. When that date is never more than two years away, it becomes difficult to pass forward-thinking pieces of legislation. This problem is exacerbated when one considers that these policymakers’ actions are constantly being over-scrutinized on television and social media.

Two years ain’t what it used to be, and this is a problem for many of NATSO’s legislative priorities. The truckstop and trucking industries have been pushing for years about the need to invest heavily in America’s surface transportation infrastructure. Bringing our roads, bridges and airports into the 21st Century costs a lot of money and the positive effects generally take years—generations even—to come to fruition.

Every day we experience first hand the benefits of the Eisenhower Administration’s investments in developing the Interstate Highway System. Congress in the 1950s worked across party lines to pass legislation to create the same roads that vehicles drive on every day.

Lucky for us there was no 24-hour news cycle or social media in 1956.

This isn’t to say that frequent elections are necessarily a bad thing; of course it is imperative that voters have the opportunity to “throw the bums out” from time to time. But for all of 2017, the U.S. economy was strong, there was a clear need for legislation improving our country’s infrastructure and healthcare systems, and a single political party held control of both houses of Congress and the White House. And still we underinvest in our infrastructure and have skyrocketing healthcare and insurance costs.

So, I’ll say it again, two years ain’t what it used to be.

via Business Feeds

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