The most refreshing thing about the election of Washington DC outsiders to Congress is the fresh perspective they bring to the table as they face the challenges of attempting to govern the constantly bucking bronco that is the U.S. government.
The learning curve for newly-elected representatives can be steep, particularly for those whose previous experience has been outside of the realm of federal, state, or local bureaucracies.
Thanks to social media, however, the public has been able to access the perspective of incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) as she navigates her freshman orientation into the ways of political power in our nation’s capital.
As an avowed Democratic Socialist, Ocasio-Cortez is questioning the assumptions behind the rules and regulations of Congress in a way that few have before. With a working-class background and an unprecedented youthfulness, the representative now finds herself in the midst of a body where 520 out of 585 politicians have a net worth exceeding six figures, according to the latest figures in an accounting by OpenSecrets.org, a website run by the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Congressional rules on personal finances were on Ocasio-Cortez’s mind when she retweeted an article from The Intercept about the legislation introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) that would ban members of Congress and their senior staff from trading individual stocks to prevent them from considering their own potential financial gain when considering legislation that could affect stock prices.
The Congresswoman amply demonstrated the inherent class bias in current congressional regulations as she expressed her support for the Senator’s proposed bill and contrasted her own struggles as an ordinary citizen transitioning into government service under rules designed for the wealthy gentry that typically get elected to federal office.
This is the downside of the political stunt of voting against member allowance or pay increases.
Politicians can get on a high horse about declining their own pay increase, and then write nefarious loopholes to allow use of leg power to make money in potentially unethical ways.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) December 17, 2018
The loopholes that let Congress members personally profit in their investments from legislative decisions they control makes a mockery of the ethics rules that prevent more minor methods of illicitly profiting from their positions of responsibility, as Ocasio-Cortez so perceptively points out.
Congress needs to close those loopholes so that all legislators are forced to at a minimum put their investments in blind trusts or better yet be required to hold only broad-based mutual funds rather than individual stocks.
Even more importantly, we need more people without a legacy of extreme wealth representing us in Congress and need to repeal the Citizens United decision that allows corporate donations to dominate our political discourse and determine who can afford to be elected.
With more representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the nation may finally have the chance to make substantive changes to political corruption in the Washington DC swamp that has only grown exponentially since President Trump took office.
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