Responsible Leadership: We can dream, can’t we?

by Steve Huntley

February 15, 2023

Americans are used to not expecting much from the politicians in Congress.

And those politicians rarely fail to measure down to those low expectations. More investigations and political infighting may be all that we should anticipate from the new Congress. Control of the legislative branch is divided and the majorities in both chambers are razor thin.

Already underway is a battle — more politics than substance — over raising the nation’s debt limit.

Republicans dream of an actual reckoning with the nation’s surging red ink. Democrats dream of Republicans being shown up as willing to push the nation’s financial credibility off the cliff. Voters are left to dream of a Congress that might actually strive to clean up the nation’s debt mess.

To win his post as House speaker, Kevin McCarthy had to make a pledge to the activist Freedom Caucus not to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts. The White House responded by declaring there will be no negotiations over raising the debt limit.

It will take some very adroit maneuvering by House Republicans not to paint themselves in a corner of being responsible for shutting down the government, a public relations disaster every time it’s occurred in the past.

Just last week President Biden went on the attack in his State of the Union message. He seized on the ham-fisted language of a GOP senator calling for regular reviews of federal programs to dust off the hoary Democrat accusation that Republicans want to cut Social Security.

The debt ceiling was reached Jan. 19 and the Biden administration said that, without congressional action, the government might not be able to pay its bills as early as June.

Consider these facts about the nation’s debt, as reported by the New York Times:

*The debt of $31.5 trillion is six times what it was at the start of this century just 23 years ago.

*Taking into account the size of our economy, the debt is the largest it has been since World War II when the country’s entire financial resources and credit were mobilized to defeat Nazi Germany and imperial Japan in the greatest war in world history.

*Projections show the national debt growing by an average of $1.3 trillion a year for the next decade.

And, oh, about Social Security, the Congressional Budget Office said in December that Social Security’s financial situation is so anemic that as soon as 2033 the government “will no longer be able to pay full benefits.” Biden’s fear-mongering demagoguery did not mention that.

So getting America’s finances under control is vital. And polling shows a majority of voters think Congress should address it. Yet, when push comes to shove, voters usually rank as a higher priority sexier, more immediate, more emotional concerns, be it inflation, gas prices, abortion or the Ukraine war, to name a few.

Success in balancing the government’s ledgers may require control of both houses of Congress and possibly the presidency as well, unless somehow leaders of both parties come to think it’s important enough to work together and make the hard choices compromise requires.

We can dream, can’t we?

Both sides are responsible for the red ink. When they are in power, Democrats spend like they’ve just won the Power Ball lottery, target “the rich” for tax increases and employ fanciful budget numbers to justify their excesses. When Republicans are in power, they cut taxes, propose often illusionary spending cuts and employ their own fanciful accounting numbers.

To their credit, the rebels forcing the 15-vote speaker election demanded changes in how Congress writes with the nation’s budget.

In recent years, budgeting has come in so-called omnibus bills that cover the entire federal government instead of the once traditional way of producing a dozen separate spending bills for the various functions and departments in charge of governing the country. Making it worse is that these omnibus bills run more than a thousand pages and land on lawmakers desks only hours before the deadline for passing them.

This means, in former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s infamous words about Obamacare, members of Congress have to “pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

This is lawmakers operating in the dark.

This is no way to run a government.

So, it would be a giant step forward for House Republicans to restore the normal order of business with committees writing twelve individual budget bills, holding hearings where necessary, turning out bills with reasonable time for members to read them before voting, and guaranteeing a sensible amendment process.

That would be true even if the Democrat-ruled Senate dragged its feet and resorted to combining House budget measures into one last-minute omnibus bill. At least the voters would know which party favors transparency in the workings of Washington.

Which brings up the question of whether even more basic reform is required to change the way Congress works.

The rebels, as a cost for their support of McCarthy’s speakership, also demanded a vote on term limits for members of Congress. That balloting would be symbolic, but it touches on a real issue.

Polls show that the concept of terms limits is popular with voters and, perhaps for that reason, any number of politicians pay lip service to the notion — but nothing ever comes of it.

An organization called U.S. Term Limits has a goal of getting 2 million Americans to sign a petition pushing for this change.

That would be only a start. Success regarding term limits requires a multi-year effort costing tens of millions of dollars and powered by a nonstop media campaign to drum up pressure for change. This will be an uphill battle since limiting politicians’ time in Congress will require a constitutional amendment.

You will hear a number of arguments against term limits.

For one, limits would deny the voters the right to keep a representative or senator they like beyond a certain time. Good government is set back when effective lawmakers are forced out of office, according to a variant of this argument.

Another is that legislators build up important experience in policy and the workings of government that is wasted if they’re forced out of office by arbitrary term limits.

Also, a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center found a natural turnover rate of about two-thirds of Congress over a 12-year period. Twelve years — two terms for the Senate and six for the House — constitute the ceiling usually suggested by term limit advocates.

Such arguments have merit. But most Americans probably think those arguments are overwhelmed by the ineffectual and self-serving mess that they see in Congress.

The most obvious result of experience in the House or Senate is not only policy expertise but also lawmakers building up the clout and financial resources necessary for winning re-election after re-election.

Re-election rates for members of the House and Senate in the 21st century run 80 to 90 percent, according to an analysis by Open Secrets. Voters in effect frequently have little say in choosing their lawmakers because the built-in advantage of incumbents usually translates into weak challengers.

The Pew argument fails to take note of the power longevity bestows on a few legislators like former House Speaker Pelosi (36 years), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (24 years), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (38 years), Senate Democratic whip Dick Durbin (27 years) and House assistant Democratic leader James Clyburn (30 years). New House Speaker McCarthy almost seems like a newcomer at only 16 years.

Power accumulated by a few legislative leaders as the years pile up explains why they can force thousand-page bills through Congress while most of the rest of lawmakers are left to twiddle their thumbs.

The result too often is a dysfunctional Congress that has abdicated its lawmaking responsibilities to other parts of government.

Presidents increasingly resort to executive orders to legislate from the White House — and, in the case of Democrats, they often are encouraged to do so by Capitol Hill leaders unable to advance their goals through legislation. Think of Biden’s executive orders on vaccine mandates, an eviction moratorium and relief for student loan debt.

The unelected functionaries running the vast federal bureaucracy seize the legislative vacuum to promulgate ever more expansive and intrusive regulations going far beyond what congressionally enacted laws allow. Since bureaucrats overwhelmingly lean left, Democrats are happy to defer to them.

At least a president is elected. Lawmaking by unelected bureaucrats is an insult and an actual threat to our democratic republic.

But courts, including the Supreme Court, are pulling back from earlier deference to the administrative state. Last year the high court ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency for trying to impose a cap-and-trade emissions control regime that Congress itself had refused to enact.

More challenges are in the legal pipeline, and more decisions like the EPA one would force a return of law-making responsibility to Capitol Hill.

That would mean the country will need an effective Congress living up to the demands imposed on it by the Constitution — “All legislative powers herein granted (emphasis added) shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.”

Perhaps it’s worthwhile to recall the famous words of Benjamin Franklin who, when asked what kind of government the Founding Fathers had given us, replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”


Steve Huntley, a retired Chicago journalist now living in Austin, Texas, has contributed other pieces to johnkassnews, from an examination of the secret jail for Christopher Columnbus and other politically problematic public art to an essay on Americans suffering from Joe Biden gas pain.

For almost three decades Huntley spent most of his career in Chicago journalism at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he was a feature writer, metro reporter, night city editor, metropolitan editor, editorial page editor and a columnist for the opinion pages.

Before that he was a reporter and editor with United Press International (UPI) in the South and Chicago, and Chicago bureau chief and a senior editor in Washington with U.S. News & World Report. Northwestern University Press has issued soft cover and eBook editions of Knocking Down Barriers: My Fight for Black America by Truman K. Gibson Jr. with Steve Huntley, a memoir of a Chicagoan who was a member of President Roosevelt’s World War II Black Cabinet working to desegregate the military.

It is an honor and privilege to have Mr. Huntley, who spent decades in the news business in Chicago, writing pieces here.



Comments 23

  1. When Dick Durbin was picked to keep arch-idiot Pat Quinn out of the U.S. Senate for the seat vacated by Paul Simon, little did the powers that were know that the difference would be alternative between hore$hit and manure.
    Durbin came to Leo HS immediately upon his ascension to get some inner-ciy Chicago street cred, Durbin’s aide was an old friend and arranged the visit with me, the director of development.

    Durbin was toured through the school and pointed to the football-heavy artifacts, photos and equipment. Bob Foster, the legendary IHSA & Catholic League football coach led the tour, pointing to himself in 1956 City of Chicago Championship photo. Durbin was introduced to coaches Mile Holmes and Dan O’Keefe who led the Lions to another playoff season.

    After the tour we retired to President Bob Foster;s office for coffee, Durbin immediately asked, ” Bob, does Leo have a football team?”

    The unfiltered legend exclaimed, ” Jesus Christ Almighty! And YOU are go a U.S. Senator? Get them eyes and ears fixed,”

    You can not make this stuff up. Sadly.

    1. And the beat goes on and on, people do not care what happens to this once Great Country and our kids have been brainwashed. Voters do not cast a Vote, knowing that the machine is already in the bag and we desperately need term limits, Durbin’s wife is making a ton of money been a Lobbyist, and most of the spouses of crooked Politicians are Lobbyist. Nancy Pelosi, was elected and was allowed by stupidity to destroy and make millions and no one ever took her to the task. I cannot help but think the Elections are already in the bag for these people and they know it so what is the point of telling the truth when no one seems to care enough to make a change. Illinois is lost, who is running this once Great State. The Land of Lincoln has become a joke when most Citizens do not know who Lincoln is. Illegals should not have the right to Vote, and the Black people must put their hatred away for White people and save this Country because the Illegals are taking over and they will never be the majority. Having the White Race feel guilty of past mistakes can take you so far and than people will rise above all this hatred and it looks like a Revolution is coming. There is one America, everyone is equal, and we have one NATIONAL ANTHEM FOLKS.

        1. Tony Cesare, a.k.a. Riga Tony, is an endless troll.
And he is an identity thief.
He broke the law when he attempted to steal the identity of the owner of Tony’s Tap in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. They have never heard of of Rigatony or Tony Cesare there. Never.
He uses a fake name here. Why? He’s an abject coward. Do you see any other fake names here? It’s pure cowardice and a thin attempt to deceive John Kass’ readers. 
He pushes a broom. That’s it.
Our soon-to-be-released YouTube video will have it all.
A major potential consequence of identity theft, such as that perpetrated by Tony Cesare a.k.a Rigatony, is that the thief might be able to obtain credit under false pretenses, a federal felony.
I know of a business in Arizona that was bankrupted by this. That’s Rigatony.
RigaTony is actually identity thief, Tony Cesare. Kass calls him the “cockroach in a gas station urinal.” Kass blocked him from his Facebook pages. 
Never reply to him or comment. He will troll you endlessly. He has trolled me.
Here is the proof of how he attempted to steal the identity of the owner of this place in Wisconsin.
We called Tony’s Tap in Mineral Point WI. They have never heard of Tony Cesare. NEVER!Here is the proof:
Stay tuned for our complete expose on Tony Cesare, or Riga Tony, or whoever this identity thief is.
          It’ll be on YouTube soon:
          ‘Riga Tony – Recipe of a Failed Life.’ We have his lies going back ten years.

    2. Yup, and Dick is still our senator from Illinois, and is still clueless. You watch his face while he talks about an issue, and you realize, he has no clue what’s going on!

    3. Loved the article Pat! Durban is an idiot. I have had a couple of encounters with him over the years and his ignorance and corruptness have never ceased to amaze me. I have to turn the TV off when he comes on – I dislike him that much – so typical of the powerful clowns that run this country, this state, and this city! How did we ever get so screwed up? Anyway – great story!

  2. The GOP is being irresponsible. Perhaps they handle their personal finances the same way? You know, run up the credit card balance and tell the company you won’t pay. They bowed to Trump as he ran up the deficit with the tax cuts he demanded but now tell our creditors we won’t pay? I worked in Congress when Republicans put the country’s interests first, now they preen and eschew their responsibilities. The time to fight about bills is before you vote to run them up.

    1. I remember early in Trump’s presidency when he was given a $1.3 trillion spending bill. He laid it on a stool near a podium and said he would sign something like this once and never again because it at least had defense spending and border protection monies in it that he wanted.

      The days of omnibus bills need to stop. But the American people need to wake up to the fact that “free” never means free (e.g. free healthcare).

      Government is too big and needs to fail.

  3. I understand the drawbacks you listed regarding term limits. However, the lobbyists and special interest groups need to be reigned in. It seems that the longer the person stays in government, the more power is wielded because of money flowing from the outside–on either side of the aisle.

    The way things are run now, there really isn’t any difference between the majority of Republicans and the majority of Democrats whose only interest is to make their positions lifelong and retire multi-millionaires.

    In power, they languish over bills for years, nothing really gets accomplished, then the rhetoric ramps up again with “Vote for me because…” Then, when push comes to shove, as you mentioned, bills about one issue become filled with extras no legislator has time to read.

    The American people themselves need to wake up to the game that is played and vote these people out. Yet some legislators have been in office so long, the amount of money they amassed has been high, and they have become too big to fail (e.g. Dick Durbin).

  4. Remarkably candid and level headed commentary, but you omitted one critical detail. These aren’t just ‘rebels’, they are legislative terrorists, conspiracy theorists, election deniers, culture warriors and Christian nationalists. Paul Gosar may be the most destructive mind in congress. And while I agree with the group on this issue, the stain of all the craziness spreads across the entire GOP. If the Democratic Party is defined in the minds by its most extreme members, so goes the same for the GOP.

    1. This troll continues to be the gift that keeps on giving:
      Here is the link to his identity theft attempt AGAIN:
      Here is the link again:

      It’s graphic evidence of Tony Cesare’s (Rigatony) identity theft attempt.
      When we first reveal this last summer he lied and said that I had created these images in Photoshop. It was too bad for him that others had seen this on their own computers.
      What a loser Tony Cesare is.

  5. Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the archaic rules that determine what gets done in Congress. Those with the political clout, due to years in office, denies and frustrates junior Congress members. Newly minted members of Congress, who came to Washington to “change” the country, are lucky if they can even get 5 minutes with the “leaders”. They usually don’t say in Congress very long, coming quickly to the realization that the “archaic rules” prevents them from getting anything done.
    For me, that is the most powerful argument for term limits.
    I don’t want my representatives with unchecked political power. I want Congress to work together to get things done.
    Investigations and hearings does NOTHING to advance the will of the voters. It’s purely theater, designed to give us the impression that something is getting done.
    Our Congress acts like the combatants in a divorce proceeding, trying to clean out the checking account before the divorce is final.
    Stop telling us the unicorn stories and do what you were elected to do.
    You are not RULERS. You are legislators. DO YOUR JOB!
    Then, move on.

  6. Let us pray….that we can someone encourage our legislators to back a term limit proposal so we can escort the feeble and lame out of office before they do more damage! We can dream….

  7. Quick points.
    1. Term limits are a must. The bullscat that we need ‘experienced’ leaders to run govt is false. Look at our govt. now with long term pols: a failure. If our govt runs with 2 term limited POTUS then the same for Congress, 2 terms and your out. Cut Congressional salaries in half. No monies for your office, ie monies for staff, rent etc. Can’t afford it?, then don’t run. Then only rich will run? Take a look now. They are mostly rich!
    2. Huntley mentions the Dems tax the rich and GOP cuts taxes. Yeah tax cuts for the RICH, Steve, for the rich. Those tax cuts under Trump increased the debt Steve. Why didn’t you mention that.
    3. Wives from BOTH SIDES are lobbyists, Steve, both sides.
    4. REBELS, really. They are nothing but foul mouthed juvenile delinquents spoil brats that need their asses kicked really hard.
    5. Want to shore up SS?, raise the tax rate cap to unlimited. Oh we can’t do that because it affects who? The rich. Surprise. We want to cut Social benefits because of over spending. How about cutting our war economy. Last budget was around 1.9 trillion HALF OF WHICH WAS FOR MILITARY SPENDING. Every year we do that. Every year I thought USA was at peace. Why that amount of money spent every year. Why $40 plus billion to a corrupt nation like Ukraine. Because war is good for the economy that’s why. It got us out of the Great Depression. Eisenhower warned us of the Military Industrial CONGRESSIONAL Complex. The latter word is always omitted. Wonder why? It seems that monies spent to kill people is more important than helping people in OUR COUNTRY with health care and staying out of poverty. These trolls who go after SS & MC/MA are relics of the past and/or children of pols who hated FDR.
    6. ALL POLITICIANS ARE WHORES. And we act surprised. They are in office to do bidding for the rich and the corporations. And to get their pensions and perks. It won’t change unless the public want change,. And it seems we don’t want change.
    7. Want change? Suggestion. I always vote against the incumbent. No matter what/who is in office. None of them benefit me or do any good anyway. Why.? Keep them for getting any power.
    I’ll stop for now.
    T. A. Rudd, MS, MD

  8. We can balance the budget in five or six years if we are serious about it.

    First, close the Department of Education. Cut the annual layout by 25% and the block grant the money to the states based on population. States should be given the freedom to do what they want with the money. If they want vouchers, deny illegal immigrants, or dig a hole and bury the money, let them do it and let their local officials be accountable.

    Next, Close the Department of Homeland Security. That money can also be cut by 25% and INS can be given the tools they need to secure the border and hire and train people to preside over hearings for asylum promptly, and most of the pleas for asylum for those who walk up to the border, or sneak in, should be denied.

    The CIA needs to go. They cause more trouble than they prevent and their spending is not subject to audit.

    Refocus the FBI to protecting and serving the citizens and not the ruling class.

    Merge Commerce and Labor Departments and cut the budget by 25%. They should focus on encouraging full employment and entrepreneurship. Let the states regulate businesses.

    Defense should be level funded for three years. This will curtail un away increases.

    Lift the cap on Social Security.

    Allow some deductions, but put a mandatory 5% tax for businesses or individual income over 1 million. 10% over 5 million, 15% over 10 million, and 20% over 10 million.

    Term limits
    End PACS, Dark money

  9. A simple regulation to allow one day for read time for every 100 pages in a bill may help. If they need something in a hurry, the bill would need to be short and sweet.

  10. Currently Congress has a 22% approval rating (per Gallup poll). I keep shaking my head at this number, but as Mr. Huntley points out there are many reasons the same tired hacks get elected. All the more reason for term limits. It will cut into the one thing people like McConnell or Schumer know how to do well: get re-election funds. Things like power all have their roots in cash.
    I am heartened to see the SCOTUS actually pushing back making our legislators do their job. The Roberts court is proving a) they are not the rubber stamp and b) dissention between justices does yield good results.

  11. How unfortunately true: “Americans are used to not expecting much from the politicians in Congress. And those politicians rarely fail to measure down to those low expectations.”

    Sort of makes you yearn for the more responsible pork-barrel trading days of yore when folks actually talked and worked with each other to accomplish something for, more or less, the good of the country. Instead of focusing on simply trying to get in their next sound-bite to further their re-election. God help us all.

  12. Apologies for the 2nd post:

    I absolutely agree that the bigger issue is the abdication of responsibility for the legislative branch of government to legislate and defer to executive orders, agencies, etc. That is the definition of the downfall of our republic. We’re treated as chumbolones by politicians because the majority of Americans are too naive/irresponsible/beaten down/stupid/etc. to hold them accountable.

    I’m all in for legislative (and judicial) branch term limits. It was done for the executive branch (in a different, more responsible time)…

  13. Insightful reporting as always, Steve. Getting term limits through Congress–I’ll wait for a Cubs and Sox World Series and the Bears drafting THE quarterback. But how about this for a possible compromise: Term limits for congressional party leaders? Newbies might vote overwhelmingly for that, straining as they now do over autocratic leaders. And it would finally move Dick Durbin to a back bench, where he belongs.

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