I am a software engineer, and last week we had a discussion about what it meant to be “done”. Some thought it meant when you get your work completed, and it went to the quality assurance group. My boss thought it was when it got the quality assurance group’s blessing. I tend to take it a step further and think “done” is when the customer is using it and it meets their needs. Anyway, it got me to thinking about what Congress thinks “done” is.
Our former Congressman Jason Altmire’s definition of “done” was easy to find. The one thing he was most proud of was the 29 bills he introduced that were passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law by the President. For him, “done” meant at the very least that the bill became law.
Erin McClelland is running for the House of Representatives in my district (PA-12). Her definition of “done” takes it a step further than that. She talks passionately about solving problems and that passing bills are simply steps along the way to solving the problem. It seems that for any problem, she has a solution, a plan to implement it and facts to back it up. For her, “done” is when the problem is solved.
Now let’s get to the House of Representative’s definition of “done”. Speaker John Boehner has often said “The House has done its job. It’s time for the Senate and the President to do theirs” just before leaving town for one of their many vacations.
Their definition of “done” is when they pass a bill and throw it over the wall to the Senate. It is more than just talk, because you can see it in the quality of their work. When your definition of “done” is simply completing a task with no concern for where it goes from there, then the quality is secondary. You are just checking off an item and saying you did it. I see that when a software engineer thinks “done” is when he or she can check off that something was completed. If often comes right back with a bunch of issues.
The border security bill they passed in August was a good example. After saying they couldn’t pass anything and that the President should deal with the child immigration problem himself, they passed the bill on August 1st just before leaving on a month-long vacation. They had no concern whether it would pass the Senate or be signed by the President. The President said he would veto it before it was even voted on. Their one and only goal was to pass something, so they can say they did it. As far as they were concerned, they were ‘done”, and Speaker Boehner said as much.
The other problem with their definition of “done” is that they are more likely to pass bills to make a statement like voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act at least 50 times, or to sue the President for doing something they wanted to have happen anyway. One can go on and on about times Congress claimed they were “done” knowing that it will never become law.
If I just threw something over the wall with no concern for whether it can make it through to the next step in the process, I would be fired. I would never let my son get away with that either. However, that seems to be how the House works.
My own Congressman, Keith Rothfus, has been remarkably short on solutions compared to his predecessor, Jason Altmire or his possible successor, Erin McClelland. His definition of “done” seems to be limited to pointing fingers and “holding people accountable”. He has shown little interest in coming up with solutions and solving problems. Most of his speeches focus on identifying problems and assigning blame rather than solving them.
Erin McClelland’s definition of “done” means that quality matters. Bills are written with the intent that they can pass the Senate and will be signed by the President, because they are intended to solve a problem and not just make a statement. It means getting people together with different interests to agree on a solution that can make it to the President’s desk, because you or your party can’t just do it yourselves.
It is very easy fulfilling the House’s definition of “done” or Keith Rothfus’s definition as well. It is hard work fulfilling Erin McClelland’s definition of “done”, but she has a history of getting things “done” in the healthcare field both in her own business, and using her expertise in fixing medical errors.
Our government needs more people that believe that “done” means that the problem is solved no matter how difficult the solution might be. Replacing Keith Rothfus with Erin McClelland would be a very good start to changing the definition of "done".