Why Is Congress So Dysfunctional? (Answer: It's a "Fact-Free Zone")

Meeting to Make America Work! 2013

Kiki McClean, No Labels co-founder/ Photo by No Labels

This country is desperately in need of facts. That was the overwhelming message I took away from two exciting things that happened last week. First, there was a national conference for No Labels, an organization committed to getting beyond political party affiliation in order to support real problem solving in Washington. The second event was at the New York Public Library, Mid-Manhattan branch, where I spoke about A People's Guide to the Federal Budget.

"Congress is a fact-free zone," said Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), one of a dozen members of Congress who spoke at No Labels. From those on stage to the vast audience, everyone agreed that Congress needs a common set of facts as a starting point in negotiations over the federal budget. Of course, Congress already has the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office to crunch non-partisan numbers. But each member of Congress can request and rely on research that uses different economic and budgetary assumptions. And in the audience 1,300 committed citizens, young and old, were also hungry for a set of hard facts to help them navigate the federal budget crises that our country faces.

A few blocks across town at the New York Public Library, another group of concerned citizens gathered to hear about A People's Guide to the Federal Budget. They came because they'd heard so much alarming news about the budget and dysfunction in Washington. Folks from every corner of the city asked questions about health care programs, tax loopholes, the authority to raise the debt ceiling, and – most of all – how to do something to fix Washington.

What did I say to all that? I said they'd begun the first order of business: arming themselves with information. (Start here with Federal Budget 101.)

The second thing to do is speak up. Get loud. Because the only way Congress will do any better is if we demand it. Start with NPP's Take Action page in order to locate your two senators and your representative in the House and their contact information. Then call, e-mail, Tweet, write them a Facebook post, or Build a Better Budget and send them your ideas. Our legislators will listen – but only if we make enough noise.