The Jet Set

| Mon Feb. 15, 2010 5:52 PM EST

Gerald Seib writes about our broken political system:

On a personal level, senators today lack the natural human bonds that would make it easier for Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, to come together in compromise.

One Senate veteran said the institution became a less pleasant place when lawmakers were given stipends to cover trips back home every weekend, rather than once a month. Senators now commute to Washington rather than live there. They don't see one another's families on weekends, and don't develop as many friendships across party lines. Thus, they find it easier to alienate one another.

Another part of this is the 3-day workweek, which makes commuting home a lot more practical for members of Congress who live west of the Mississippi.

But the only reason I'm mentioning this is that it's striking how often it comes up. The biggest factors in the changing political culture of Washington DC are things like the increasing ideological separation of the parties, the rise of the filibuster, and the growth of polarization based on hot button social issues, and those deservedly get a lot of attention.  But the commuting issue comes up at least as often. If longtime congressional watchers are to be believed, it's as big a problem as any of the others.

I'm not sure if that's true, and if it is I'm not sure if it's cause or effect. But I'd sure be willing to cut back travel stipends and go back to a four or five-day workweek to find out.