An Opportunity To Do GoodWritten By: REP. ROSKAM
Article Date: 06-04-2007
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The inside scoop from a new member of Congress.
The first realization that I had arrived in Congress came when my wife and I arrived at Reagan National Airport for New Member Orientation. A uniformed U.S. Marine met us at the gate. This was reinforced the day after I took the oath of office when I was among the first group of legislators to be invited to the White House to discuss the President's new strategy for Iraq. This was a sobering experience for me and made me appreciate the gravity of my new position.
Getting started as a new member of Congress is an intense and exciting experience. It took me all of 48 hours to be completely humbled by the fire hose of information directed at new members. Between parliamentary process and ethics rules, I had a lot to get acquainted with before legislative business could begin.
For instance, as a member of Congress, I get invited to hundreds of events by organizations ranging from the Boy Scouts to the Chamber of Commerce to the American Legion. When going to events, I have to watch out for forks. Forks are an indication that you are at a dinner. Attending dinners is, generally speaking, against the new House Ethics rules. On a practical level, this means if the Legionnaires are cooking hot dogs, I'm OK. But I can't eat the coleslaw.
Running a congressional office is also new. If my Illinois State Senate office needed a new copier, I could save the taxpayers a few thousand bucks by buying one out of my campaign funds. In Springfield, this was a virtue. In Washington, this is a felony. We are given a Members Representational Allowance (MRA) that we use to hire staff, buy office supplies and run our offices. We are reminded that if we go over that MRA, we have to write a personal check back to the federal government for the difference.
Perhaps the biggest difference between being a state senator and a congressman is the scale of the institution. The Illinois State Senate has 59 members. The House Financial Services Committee on which I sit has 69. With more than 20 committees, the U.S. House of Representatives is, in many ways, like 20 legislatures that come together frequently as a whole.
In the Illinois Senate, I knew every state senator personally. We would sit in the same room; debate a bill; vote on a bill, pass it or kill it; and move on to the next one. If you had a question, you were recognized and asked it. Everything on the Senate floor happened in your presence.
After some 90 days on the job in the U.S. House of Representatives, I am still daily encountering members of my own Republican conference I have not met. Debate takes place on CSPAN, rather than in person, and can be as lively as in any parliamentary body. However, as debate crescendos to the point where you expect a vote, it ends abruptly and votes are bundled at the end of the day.
But along with the Byzantine ethics rules and massive increase in scale comes an opportunity to do more good. Drawing on some of the parliamentary skills I learned in the minority in the Illinois Senate, I managed to attach an amendment to a piece of legislation that saved taxpayers $10 million.
I've also co-sponsored legislation to make permanent the child tax credit, marriage tax penalty relief, repeal of the estate tax, and the other Republican tax relief measures that have fueled our economy these last few years.
As I reflect on my journey, I'm filled with a sense of pride and honor that I have the opportunity to serve at such a pivotal time in our history. Each time I see the Capitol dome, I'm filled with a sense of awe.
A senior member of Congress told me when that sense of awe leaves, it is time to leave D.C. I think I will be here quite a while.
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