Column: 3 Missing Senators: Candidates Should Stick To Day Jobs

This story was written by Kathleen Watson, The Daily Iowan


When it comes to political coverage, the 2008 presidential election is always the topic. It dominates not only political news coverage, but all media coverage. I don't know about you, but I'm sick of it.

I've spent the last few weeks cursing Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for the irony of giving me political burnout weeks before I relocate to the nation's capital. But then I realized, this isn't political burnout, this is election burnout. There is plenty going on in the world of politics, but we don't hear about it - all we hear about is the Democratic primaries and "Will Hillary drop out?"

Personally, I don't care who drops out; I would just like to see them do their jobs. Despite evidence to the contrary, the presidential candidates still have a responsibility in the U.S. Senate.

In the absence of the superstar senators, there's still quite a bit of activity on Capitol Hill. On May 1, the Senate Armed Services Committee completed a markup of a bill that includes a 3.9 percent pay raise for uniformed personnel; that's half a percent higher than President Bush requested. (Hah! I dare you to veto that, Mr. President!)

This week, the Senate is considering amendments to the Flood Insurance Act, although Sens. Rodham Clinton, John McCain, and Obama have not been around to vote on any of the amendments. In fact, it only takes a brief glimpse at the Senate's official website to see that the "not voting" column has three recurring names this year: Rodham Clinton, McCain, Obama. This is nothing new; politicians always abandon their current post to run for office. This year, it's particularly annoying because we have 3 percent of the Senate out campaigning us to death instead of voting on such things as the Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, the FAA Reauthorization Act. On April 24, Rodham Clinton was the only one of the three on record who voted to improve veterans benefits through an amendment to the Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act.

What I find particularly bothersome is the absence of all three senators on a resolution to honor the members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (although they were all on the list of the 99 cosponsors.) This resolution consisted of a statement to commemorate the sacrifice of the troops and their families. The text included the names of 4,009 members of the United States Armed Forces who had lost their lives in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and 487 members of the United States Armed Forces who lost their lives in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It passed the Senate on a vote of 95-0.

The resolution was more of a symbolic gesture than binding legislation, but something about the candidates' absence seems symbolic as well. It's something like opening a Twinkie wrapper while everyone else is observing a moment of silence. It doesn't necessarily change anything, it just seems a bit disrespectful and captures the attention of others.

Of course, this is just my opinion. Regardless of how you feel about their presence for that particular vote, does the absence of these senators from Congress bother anyone else? Even McCain, who has his nomination wrapped up, has missed several votes in the last couple of months, including one on April 17 to investigate the improper insertion of an earmark for Coconut Road (another relevant political controversy most probably haven't heard of.) Earmark reform and the military are McCain's signature issues, but he's been surprisingly absent from these votes and many others.

The bottom line is that three votes may not change the outcome on most legislation. The problem is not just their lack of productivity in their senatorial seats the real damage being done by this campaign is from the media coverage. The spotlight is taken away from important political issues to focus on the presidential horserace.

This week there is no shortage of commentary on whether or not Rodham Clinton should drop out. I don't care who drops out of the race, but I express my gratitude to anyone who will put an end to this circus of a campaign season. It's time for the candidates to stop telling us what they'll do as president, and get something done now.
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