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David Shapiro: The difference between talk and action in U.S. Congress

  • SENATE TELEVISION VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS / FEB. 3, 2020
                                Sen. Brian Schatz has issued useful releases about accessing federal services in the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s no slouch at the “calling on” press releases either.

    SENATE TELEVISION VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS / FEB. 3, 2020

    Sen. Brian Schatz has issued useful releases about accessing federal services in the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s no slouch at the “calling on” press releases either.

When the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye called on federal agencies to do something, he phoned the relevant official — sometimes the president himself — and made his point.

When he called on fellow senators to act, he approached colleagues to horse trade and got what he wanted much of the time, whichever party was in power.

While covering Hawaii’s congressional delegation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I don’t recall him issuing a press release calling on somebody else to do something.

News releases from our congressional delegates during COVID-19 have been a lesson in how influence has diminished in Congress since then.

A seat in Congress, especially the Senate, used to be one of the most powerful jobs in the world, where people called on you to get things done.

In today’s political gridlock, delegates are reduced to calling on others who care little of what they think to take actions that seldom happen because they asked.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono in the past month has called on the Federal Communications Commission to provide funds for internet connectivity, the Agriculture Department to help farmers, internet registrars to combat coronavirus scams, the Labor Department to assure workers get virus-related benefits and Donald Trump to stop counterfeit safety equipment.

She’s called on Trump to establish health practices for transit agencies, Senate leaders to support funding for local media, Facebook to stop misinformation about COVID-19, the Federal Trade Commission to protect seniors from coronavirus fraud and the Food and Drug Administration to change discriminatory blood donation policies.

Sen. Brian Schatz has issued useful releases about accessing federal services in the pandemic, but he’s no slouch at the “calling on” press releases either.

He’s called on the Trump administration to assess virus testing supplies, Senate leaders to fund the Postal Service, student loan companies to suspend payments, the secretary of agriculture to be flexible on farm loans, the FCC to subsidize telehealth providers and Trump to issue direct relief payments to veterans.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who ditched her congressional duties for a year to run a vanity campaign for president, reintroduced herself to Hawaii by calling on state epidemiologist Sarah Park, who actually shows up to work, to resign.

She called on Trump and Congress to halt evictions, support social welfare programs, provide additional funding for Oahu rail and get medical supplies from trading partners.

Rep. Ed Case was the only Hawaii delegate who sent me no press releases calling on others to take action on COVID-19.

While these news releases often express worthy goals, they are mostly for political show, talk instead of action.

If our delegates had real influence to achieve the results, they’d make quieter calls to those who could help them get it done or pass a bill.


Reach David Shapiro at volcanicash@gmail.com.


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