An Ombudsman For The Poor In Congress

Just four percent of Americans have assets of $1 million or more. But more than half the members of Congress have at least this much, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. Could this, along with salaries of $174,000 and very generous perks, incline legislators to feel the pain of the rich more than the angst of the poor?

The answer, of course, is yes. There’s no genuine hatred of poor people among our governing elite. At least, not among most of this elite. Rather, because no one in Congress—NO ONE—actually suffers the anguish of poverty, or even lower middle class economic discomfort for that matter, they have no gut feeling for what not having basic money really means in one’s daily life.

They don’t know what’s it’s like to have to eat on present food stamp allocations. They don’t have to choose between paying monthly credit card bills or the month’s rent. They aren’t seeing their kids forsake college because they can’t afford tuition and the kids don’t want to take on the inescapable debt that comes in train with a higher education these days.

Because no one in Congress—NO ONE—actually experiences being poor and its consequences, legislative nostrums reflect this fact in all sorts of ways. Official numbers about the economy, big picture constructs that reflect almost no one’s real world living, become the guide to policy making. Or worse, far worse, think tank and philosopher views of the economy that postulate the way people should live rather than taking into account the way they actually do live, guide policy making.

So how do we get poor person reality up front and directly in the faces of law makers in Washington? With an ombudsman. A real person living real life poverty who has the power to stand up during House and Senate hearings and debates on economic matters and say, in effect: “What you are saying is nonsense and will make life of the poverty-ridden and poverty stricken worse and even more painful.

The responsible press has ombudsmen on staff who help keep reporter writing in line. Government agencies in some parts of the world have ombudsmen serving the same role when it comes to government activities. Let’s bring the idea to our own Congress.

It would be helpful, indeed, if the people who make laws hurting the poor have to come face-to-face with a spokesman for their victims on a daily basis.

Michael Silverstein’s novel, Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, is available in print and as an ebook from Amazon.

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