In yesterday’s Washington Post, there was an article about how members of Congress get the choice seats for the State of the Union address. There is a picture of Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Eliot Engel saving their seats well before the start of President Obama’s address. Basically it is first come, first served. There is no saving of seats (nor can staff save them for their boss). So members of Congress camp out for hours in the House chamber, just like teenagers used to due to get tickets to an upcoming concert.
Don’t member of Congress have more important things to do than sit for hours in one of the choice seats? Worse is the fact that they do it for the sole reason of getting their picture on television shaking the hand of the president as he walks into and out of the chamber. The article stated Rep Engel showed up twelve hours before the 9:00 p.m. start time. Apparently Mr. Engel does this almost every year of the 22 years he has been in office—and is known as the ”informal dean” of seat savers. In other words, if you multiply the 22 State of the Union addresses he has attended by 12 hours, that is 264 hours—or eleven days where Mr. Engel has done nothing more than sit in an empty chamber saving his seat.
I have a suggestion. Instead of a first come, first serve rule, have Congress designate a certain number of seats as “choice seats” and then auction them off on the day of the speech. You could create an E-Bay style site where members put bids on the seats (using their own money). The total money spent on the seats would then be donated to a designated charity. For instance, this year the money could have been given to the Haiti earthquake victims.
There is nothing one can do to diminish the egos of politicians who care only about television “face-time” but at least with this scenario some worthy charities could benefit from their vanity.