AGA Washington Insider

A policy blog for GIs

The Inexperienced 113th Congress

capitol bldg down PA AveOne of the biggest misconceptions of Congress is that deeply entrenched incumbents are out of touch with Americans and stuck in an “inside the beltway” mentality. However, the 113th Congress is one of the most inexperienced the country has ever seen.

According to a recent  USA Today article, the influx of rookie legislators was the result of a combination of factors, including wave elections, redistricting and contentious primaries. Congress already faces a lack of bipartisanship and obstructionism, which prevents legislation from being passed. Without years of congeniality and familiarity between members of Congress, further gridlock is expected to continue. According to The Cook Political Report, 39 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives has less than three years of experience. AGA will have to spend a considerable amount of time educating these new members on the complexities of health-care issues that will affect the future of GI.

In 2010, the rise of the Tea Party brought in a wave of new legislators. Many experienced GOP members lost their seats in bitter primaries. In 2010 and 2012, many moderate Democrats lost their seats due to redistricting and increasing polarization. Several of these new Congressional members now hold leadership positions on influential committees that used to take years to obtain. Congress also saw prominent members retire because they could no longer handle the combative nature between parties and the increasingly intense campaign cycles. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-ME, was a centrist who Time magazine named one of the greatest senators of all time in 2006. In an interview regarding her retirement, she stated, “I’ve been around for a while, and I’ve seen how Congress can work and should work. We’ve departed from that markedly, and we’ve lost the importance of consensus-building and compromise.”

Congress is not only facing hyper-polarization between parties, but the GOP House leadership is dealing with a new obstructionist class of lawmakers. Many of the newer House GOP members were elected as anti-establishment candidates, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, has the tough job of wrangling these novice members to vote for bipartisan deals. Speaker Boehner faces opposition and discontent within his own party. Unlike in 2010, when he was unanimously voted as Speaker of the House, about a dozen Republican members voted against him or abstained. In fact, in the year end deal to prevent the fiscal cliff, Speaker Boehner was only able to pass it with the help of the chamber’s Democrats since the majority of his caucus opposed the deal.

Veteran legislators also have the benefit of institutional and legislative knowledge that only experience can provide. Newcomers will be relying heavily on staff, lobbyists and constituents to help educate them on complicated policy issues. It’s up to AGA and its members to make sure these new lawmakers of Congress are informed on the significant legislative issues facing GI. It is crucial for Congress to realize how legislation affects the quality of patient care.

To get involved, please contact Lauren DePutter, AGA Government and Political Affairs Manager, at (240) 482-3221 or ldeputter@gastro.org.

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