Random Scribbles: Who does Congress work for?

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

Like a lot of people, the shutdown of the federal government has been on my mind this week. And it has me thinking.

US Capitol

Do members of Congress work for the people of the United States, or only for the voting citizens of their own state or district? Let’s say I’m a congressman representing a very urban district–I’ll pick Los Angeles. My constituents don’t care much about agricultural issues beyond the produce in the supermarket. They’re more concerned about curbing street violence, having reliable power and water, and improving the traffic situation.

Should I care about the Farm Bill, then? Should I actively block federal programs that benefit farmers and ranchers, since it is not in the interests of my constituents? Or should I set that aside and do what’s best for the country as a whole?

As another example, children don’t vote so they are technically not a constituency. Should I block programs for the very young, such as Head Start, since it is not in the interests of those who elected me? Wouldn’t it be logical to ensure that the money is spent on programs that actual voters care about, like building roads or funding Medicare? Or should I do what’s best for the country as a whole?

Let’s say my constituents are not in favor of our current military operations in Afghanistan. Should I vote to de-fund the Army? Or should I accept that national security protects all of us, even if we don’t all agree with a particular mission?

You can see where this is going. At some point, being responsive only to your constituents reaches a degree of absurdity, and, as an elected official, it must be reined in in the interests of national welfare and the common good.

I really hope members of our current Congress understand this.

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