COMMON CENTS by Timothy J. Penny


A Retiring Six-Term Congressman Reveals How Congress Really Works--and What We Must Do To Fix It
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 A Paul Tsongasstyle moderate Democrat criticizes the culture and practices of Congress, and proposes some useful reforms. Penny, a six-term representative from southern Minnesota, retired this year. In his foreword, he wisely warns that the Republican Contract with America, though it includes some worthy reforms, has a ``bitter core of political cynicism'' and cannot be met. He then offers a mix of anecdote and analysis, quite readable (thanks to coauthor Garrett, a Washington Times reporter) but sometimes burdened by clichÇs unworthy of the Thomas Paine legacy he claims in the book's title. Penny recounts his failed 1993 bipartisan attempt to cut the deficit; this serves to illustrate several ``distasteful cultures of the modern Congress.'' The Culture of Spending feeds on pork and entrenches entitlements like Social Security. In a Culture of Hypocrisy politicians offer slogans that contradict their voting record; Penny scores President Clinton and himself (he supported agricultural subsidies for beekeepers) on this, too. Concerning the Culture of Power he warns that term limits for committee chairs are more important than congressional term limits. Penny criticizes colleagues for inside- the-Beltway values: the Culture of Isolation. He offers some good news in the form of profiles of colleagues dedicated to reform. He also suggests 10 reforms, including the reduction of congressional staff and building a more honest budget process. Other proposals are more questionable: Allow lawmakers to earn outside income (what about Newt's book?); require lawmakers to raise more than 50% of campaign monies from home (senators are arguably national figures); set a limit on campaign spending (this favors incumbents, unless TV time is free). Despite this, Penny's basic point about the budget- -that politicians must prepare the public not for tax cuts but for sacrifice--is sound. Worth a hearing. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 3rd, 1995
ISBN: 0-316-69912-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995