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US Mid-Terms - A Congressional Brain Drain

20/01/2014 09:30 GMT | Updated 21/03/2014 09:59 GMT

The 2014 Mid-Term Elections is not just about control of Congress.

No matter which party wins, we will all be losers.

Due to an unprecedented amount of retirements from both parties this year the US Congress is losing a tremendous amount of experience, knowledge and ability to get things done.

In many cases, Congress is losing the kind of statesmen and women who actually do their work and make things happen.

Without them it is highly likely that Congress will become even more partisan and dysfunctional.

So far eight senators have decided to retire and 16 House Members - and counting - have also announced their moving on to greener pa$ture$.

In the Senate, the Democratic departures include real leaders and deal makers like Max Baucus (D, MT) Chair of the Senate Finance Committee; Jay Rockefeller (D, WVA) Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; Carl Levin (D, MI) Chair of the Armed Services Committee, distinguished member of several other committees including Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Intelligence; Tom Harkin (D, IA) Chair of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Tim Johnson (D, SD) Appropriations Committee, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

And on the Republican side - Saxby Chambliss (R, GA) Vice Chair of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senate Armed Services; Tom Coburn (R, OK) Ranking Member Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Select Committee on Intelligence and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and Mike Johanns (R, NE) Appropriations, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

In the House of Representatives the retirements include well known names with influential assignments like - Howard "Buck" McKeon, Chair of the Armed Services Committee; George Miller - a close ally of Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann whose committee assignments include Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Financial Services Committee.

In all, 11 Democratic Members have announced their retirement.

And 18 Republican Members have announced their retirement as well.

Why are they leaving?

It is not that they are necessarily growing older and looking forward to a simpler, less harried way of life after a long career of public service.

In most cases it is that these outstanding individuals are simply dismayed, disgusted and fed up with the dysfunction that now permeates Capitol Hill and beyond.

Some more stalwart individuals are even seeking higher office - 12 retiring House Members are making a run for the Senate and even two Governorships.

These are individuals of goodwill - they have been the glue that binds the institutions they have served.

Whether they are Democrats or Republicans they all do share a common complaint and frustration - it is simply not possible to get anything done anymore.

Congress has its lowest rating ever. It has become so partisan that it barely functions.

Everything is about maintaining power and "winning the next election" at all costs. And those costs are higher and higher each and every election cycle.

With the advent of the "Citizens United Decision" by the US Supreme Court, which allows unlimited spending by SuperPacs, Members of Congress not only face twenty-four hour attack ads from their opponents they now also must fight a flood of attack ads from groups with their own agenda and unlimited amounts cash.

So much money is necessary to win a seat that most of a Senator or Member's time is spent fund raising either on the phone or traveling across the country.

This takes valuable time away from doing the people's business.

As an example, one Member of Congress was quoted as saying he needing to raise $100,000 each month toward funding his re-election campaign.

Who is to blame?

Some believe a large share of the blame falls on the Tea Party - that the members of the Tea Party who have been elected may have damaged the institution to such an extent that it has become a very unpleasant place to work.

It is not a stretch to believe that during the last session of Congress this faction of the Republican Party was successful in holding the Republican Leadership hostage to their wishes.

Electing Members whose goal is not to compromise is counter-intuitive when the job itself calls for compromise in order to pass legislation.

The Tea Party has also been the reason that many excellent Republican legislators have opted not to run again.

They have chosen retirement over facing a Tea Party challenger who would force them so far to the right to win that they would no longer be able to vote their conscience and effectively do their job.

This is in part what happened to Mitt Romney in 2012, where he was pushed so far to the right that he could not pivot back to the center for a chance to win.

Perhaps in 2014 the voters need to think very carefully about who they send to Capitol Hill before they ruin one of the finest experiments in democracy once and for all.

No matter which party wins control of Congress, unless the voters send people of goodwill and comity who will listen to opposing views and whose goal is to reach compromise, the US is headed for tough times.

There are big challenges ahead.

America needs to remain competitive in the global economy and Congress plays a large part in how America will meet these challenges.

Whoever wins control of this new Congress will have to make many tough decisions including: how to re-vamp the NSA Programs, re-authorizing the Patriot Act which expires in 2015 or letting it lapse and how the US should face its financial challenges in the coming years to maintain its place as a global financial leader.

An effective government is vital to a vibrant, growing and competitive economy.

The inability of Congress to act and do its job was part of the reason cited for the first credit down grade of US debt in 2011.

Congress is losing important and vital experience so there will be a seismic shift in 2014 as a result of this "Congressional brain drain".

The committee leadership will be new and there will be a large number of new Members in both Houses of Congress - with no experience at all.

It will be up to the voters in just nine months to select the best and the brightest people from either party who have the best interest of the country in mind.

As President John F Kennedy was fond of saying - in a Democracy we get the kind government we deserve. This time he may be exactly right!