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Ross: A Year in D.C. Teaches That Things Need to Change in the Nation’s Capital

All new arrivals in Washington, D.C., hear the phrase not long after they arrive: “You will learn how things work in Washington.” Then we go home and hear, “Washington doesn’t work.”

My first year in Congress only affirms the wisdom of my constituents. The way things “work” in Washington doesn’t work.

In Washington, what passes for progress would be laughed down in any boardroom, dinner table or lemonade stand.

In Washington, reducing the rate of increase is called a “cut.”

In Washington, “studying” dire economic issues is called leadership.

In Washington, improving the lives of working Americans is measured in dollars spent rather than burdens lifted.

In Washington, conservatives become liberals when spending cuts hit close to home and liberals become conservatives when tax cuts steal from Social Security.

In Washington, stimulus projects abound while “flyover America” gets the bill.

In Washington, job creators are a myth while mythical Keynesian multipliers are a fact.

In Washington, unemployment insurance is “stimulus” while tax cuts are “giveaways.”

The sad truth is, I could take this entire piece and fill it with intellectually counterintuitive statements that are axioms within the Beltway.

After one year, many people have asked what I have learned. My answer continues to be, “I’ve learned that things really need to change.”

But far be it for me to be one of those people who states the obvious and refuses to offer suggestions. So, briefly, I’d like to lay out a few suggestions on how we can move forward in 2012 and make it, at least, productive.

First, as Republicans in control of the House, we should spend every day we are in Washington rescinding money appropriated to or spent on things like foreign aid to China, Vietnamese prostitute research, Solyndra and the billions and billions in government handouts and boondoggles. Each day, vote on several of these measures that no elected official could justify. There are plenty, and the American people will remember who votes “no.”

Second, as Republicans, we should join the president in his mission to end the stimulus-created corporate jet loophole and other tax expenditures and loopholes and embrace real tax reform. A comprehensive approach, even along the lines of his own fiscal commission, would spark a debate welcomed by the American people.

Vast majorities of the American public believe everyone should pay something and it should be fair. But according to polling data, more than 60 percent of Americans in all parties believe “fair” to be no more than 20 percent of income. We should welcome the debate and meet the president’s fiscal commission in areas of agreement.

Third, the House should create a sunset committee whose sole direction would be to report legislation to eliminate regulations, departments, agencies, programs or other governmental activity that is wasteful, redundant or unneeded. Anyone who has worked a year in a Congressional office can tell you the amount of waste in paper alone would be a great place to start. Reps. Kevin Brady (Texas) and Jason Chaffetz (Utah) began this work within our caucus, and I believe it is past time to make it a reality.

When I am asked back home what kind of people we need in Washington, I always tell them we need people in Washington who don’t need to be in Washington.

Not all that needs to happen will be comfortable for me in my district. But that’s OK. I wasn’t elected to a career; I was elected to a job.

This week the nation celebrates the anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., and after one year wandering the halls of Congress, I sincerely pray 2012 will be a year in which his words will ring true: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Rep. Dennis Ross is a member of the Education and Workforce; Judiciary; and Oversight and Government Reform committees. He chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy.

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