They are many reasons why bad and unpopular government policies persist. Corruption, partisan game playing, political strategy, and ideological disagreements are the ones that tend to get the most attention but often a cause is pure ignorance combined with Congress’s built-in status quo bias. Congress deals with thousands of issues so members can’t stay abreast of everything.
A perfect example of this problem was Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) response to the recently approved House amendment that would defund DEA raids on state approved medical marijuana. From Buzzfeed:
Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin said he “might support” such an amendment if it were proposed, though he didn’t appear to have heard about the issue before a reporter brought it up to him.
“Why would they raid them if it’s legal?” he asked.
Not only did he not seem to know about the amendment, he seems genuinely ignorant of the fact that DEA agents were targeting medical marijuana business even in states where it is legal because marijuana is still Schedule I under federal law.
Ironically, while lower profiles issues are often the hardest to convince regular people to get involved on, they are the issues where calling their members of Congress can make the most difference.
On the really big policies members have already made up their minds and nothing is going to change that, but if constituent calls can cause a member to really look at an issue for the first time that has the possibility to change votes.
Photo by Talk Radio News Service under Creative Commons license