Our Tax Dollars at Work
Sali Cosford Parker
I went on a “field trip” to Washington DC recently with our county historical society. We spent the day in the Visitors’ Center at the Capitol Building, doing the expected . . . touring the Rotunda, museums and Hall of Statues. I asked if they wanted our Joe Paterno statue (after all, Penn State isn’t using it anymore) but they were less than enthusiastic.
We watched a thirteen minute orientation film that was arguably the best I’ve ever seen. Ostensibly covering the history of the Capitol Building itself, the film drew us into the weighty process of crafting a government meant to safeguard personal freedoms. We shared the guarded enthusiasm, frustration and earnestness of those founding fathers, very much aware of the treasonable nature of their work and the high personal price of failure. For many, success also exacted a high personal price – families forced to maintain with out their men; children growing up with absent fathers; wives and young sons managing homes, farms and businesses on their own, with diminished resources, personal fortunes totally consumed in the fight for independence.
An hour later, with the film still fresh in my mind, I sat in the Senate gallery waiting for the afternoon session to begin. Watching the Senate Pages milling about, I was startled to hear a voice ask to be recognized. Looking around the chamber, I spotted a lone figure standing at his desk/podium.
Apparently being recognized by whomever was chairing that afternoon’s session (certainly not the rightful Chair, Vice President Biden), he launched into a speech telling his fellow Senators why they should support his bill relieving the middle class tax burden. But the man was speaking to a chamber populated by only a few Pages, the mystery-man with the gavel and five or six administrative types! Speech over, the Senator left the chamber.
A few minutes later, another voice asked to be recognized, and a New Jersey Senator began speaking about the horror of people being shot in a Colorado movie theater and the need to regulate ammunition sales as well as tighten up gun control laws. He, too, spoke to a nearly empty chamber.
Bewildered, but starting to feel sparks of anger, I asked a Door Guard where the Senators might be.
“Oh, they’re probably in their offices, watching on TV.” “Does this happen often . . . speaking to an empty room?”
“Why, yes, fairly often.”
So there you have it . . . a group of men risking all to establish a government by the people and for the people. Two hundred thirty-six years later, 100 men and women, elected by the people and paid by the people, choosing not to be physically present at meetings they are elected and paid to attend. Truly an example of “from the sublime to the ridiculous!”
Did I mention the (nearly empty) Senate chamber was brightly lit by 36 ceiling lights, and a wonderfully comfortable 68 degrees? Outside, DC was experiencing the seventh day that month of 100+ degrees.