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Engineering Congress

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How do you judge a successful elected official
barfoo0   5/2/2015 1:45:58 PM
Interesting article. It got me thinking how I judge the success or failure of someone I vote for. Common sense and avoiding worst case came to mind. Perhaps this may explain why some in congress keep getting elected term after term.

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Educating the Electorate
MWagner_MA   5/4/2015 8:27:52 AM
First I would start out by saying that with all the flaws we have in our system of government, it still seems to be the most effective.  That being said, I can make the bold statement that most people simply don't understand the different operating segments of government so when asked if you are willing to spend money on something that they don't understand, the answer is a very simple no.  It is very difficult to get a balanced definition of how a system works because of its complexity and biases of those in power to disseminate information.  Striving for more transparency and education will help..a constant struggle that must continue.  The limiting factor will ultimately be the bias of the electorate, so our expectations need be tempered somewhat.

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Wasn't Jimmy Carter an engineer?
Loser99   5/4/2015 1:39:51 PM
That didn't work out well......

Maybe engineers should stick to engineering.

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Engineers, Ignore Politics At Your Own Peril!!!
Microchip_Manny   5/4/2015 2:25:54 PM
Hi All,

    During my career I have dreaded politics at every level of my job, especially since I studied engineering and not political science. However, I would eventually discover that when there is money involved politics is to be abound.

   Living only in our "geeky" world has turned out to be a bad thing, particularly while the very corporations that we worked for actively worked to undermind the true value that we brought to the corporation by claiming that there are not enough engineers to fill all the needed positions. The government's response has been to allow more visas for engineers to come into the U.S. from other countries to help drive down our wages and to increase the number of hours that we work a week, as we are exempt from labor laws. This is the response since "our" government, more often than not, is focused on short term gains for their corporate "buddies". The alternative would be to invest more in education and grants for engineering, like the very countries that we are recruiting the engineers from...how ironic, right? Can we really afford to ignore what is happening on Capital Hill?

   So hopefully, we will start putting down those technical books and start reading about economics and finance, along with many current event books, to truly understand is happening in "our" government, because in the final analysis it is all about the money and not about providing governing or political "science" for the people! For those truly motivated, and who are able, we engineers should start running for office, as a sample size of one does not make for a good study or analysis of what an engineer can do in office. We just need to make sure that we get all the needed knowledge and strategies in place before we "jump-in"!


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The rules of the game
DMcCunney   5/5/2015 3:23:22 PM
While I could understand the author's feelings, the article simply underlined the pervasive ignorance about how the Congressional system works.  For instance, the author decries the fact that some of the congressmen have been in office 30 or 40 years.  There a reason for that.

The first point to remember is that congresspeople are elected officials.  Their single biggest overriding goal is to get reelected.  One in office, they want to remain there.

Getting in office in the first place, and staying there once you are requires votes.

When a proposal hits a congressman's desk, he'll have one of three reactions:

My constituents will like it.  It will get me votes!  I'm in favor.

My constituents won't like it.  It will cost me votes!.  I'm opposed.

My constituents won't care one way or the other, so I'll do a deal.  My support for you on this, in exchange for your support on this thing my constituents will care about.

The third is where the real work happens.

Campaign finance gets a lot of attention these days, but the issues are largely inevitable.  In order to get votes, you must do massive marketing and promotion.  In particular, you must do a TV advertising blitz just before the election.  That costs an awful lot of money, and congresspeople are always concerned with getting sufficient campaign contributions to fund their efforts.

People complaining about corporate contributions to campaign chests somewhat miss the point.  Campaign contributions help insure the contributor will be listened to by the congressman when they press for government action to support their objectives, but votes are what keep congressmen in office, and once in office, you may assume no congressman will take action requested by campaign contributors that they think will cost them votes.  (And how many constituents actually communicate with thei elected representatives to explain what actions will get their vote?)

You also have to remember the congressional committee system.  When a bill is drafted to do something it's sponsors think desirable, it is first referred to the applicable committee, where congress people from both sides of the fence consider it and pee in the soup to make it taste good to them.  The bill must be reported out from committee to be put up for a vote by the full congress to determine whether it will become a law.  Most bills die in committee, and never get reported out.

So one concern of any congressperson will be getting committee appointments.  Some committees are more prestigious and powerful than others, like the House Ways and Means committee.  What committee assigments a congress person gets are a function of seniority.  The longer you have served in congress, the more prestigious your committee assignments will become, and the greater the power you will have to determine just what gets passed into law.

Understanding this was what made the Southern block in Congress enormously powerful for many years.  Southern congressmen didn't see getting elected as a stepping stone to other posts.  They wanted to get elected, and get continually reelected to their office, accumulating seniority and influnce over the legislative process.  The late Senator Strom Thurmond, who represented SC in the Semate for 48 years is a textbook example.

Like most other human activities, Congress can be viewed as a game, and games are played by rules.  You must know things and have various things to get in the game in the first place.  To stay in the game and succeed, you musst thoroughly understand the other players and the rules, and a lot of the rules will be stuff never explicitly stated.  It's one of those games where part of the game is discovering what the rules are.

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