Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas is thinking about running for re-election in 2020.
It’s hard to imagine more depressing news. Not necessarily for Kansans, but for him.
Roberts began work as a Senate staffer in 1967 and was first elected to the House in 1980. He went to the Senate in 1997 and still serves there today. That’s 38 years in Congress, with at least two more to go.
His office is non-committal on a 2020 campaign but didn’t rule it out. “He’s working on a farm bill — his seventh — and has always said he will keep working while he thinks he can make a difference for Kansas, and he’s doing just that,” a spokeswoman said in an email.
If Roberts runs, it will be a surprise. Almost everyone thought his 2014 campaign would be his last.
Roberts will be 84 by Election Day in 2020, when he would be seeking another six-year term. That would make him 90 when the term ends.
Age doesn’t automatically disqualify the Republican senator, of course. If he runs, though, Kansans will ask a fundamental question: What could Roberts do in another six years that he couldn’t do in his first 40?
It’s a question Roberts may want to ask himself. He’ll find the answer troubling.
There was a time — Roberts will remember it — when senators and congressmen went to Washington to debate and decide important issues: war and peace, civil rights, the social safety net, foreign affairs.
Social Security was rescued during Roberts’ tenure. Immigration, welfare, crime, transportation, health care, farm policy, taxes and deficits were all on the table.
Some of those issues are still around. But there’s a difference: Today, Congress can’t even discuss solutions to problems, let alone actually fix them.
The nation is arguing over gun control in the wake of the Florida school shooting, and lawmakers in that state are moving closer to an answer. Other states are debating, discussing and voting on gun bills, good and bad.
Congress, on the other hand, is poised to do nothing — absolutely nothing — to address gun violence.
This isn’t an aberration. Congress has done nothing on immigration. It couldn’t repeal Obamacare or improve it. An infrastructure bill is a joke. Entitlement reform is a distant dream.
Congress did pass a deficit-exploding tax cut, a job as difficult as hitting the ground after falling from a tree. Other than that? Crickets.
It isn’t that Congress is doing a good job or a bad job. It’s doing no job at all. Why would Pat Roberts subject himself to another six years of that?
Perhaps he thinks he can make Kansas a better place, at the margins, with a new farm bill. Ask yourself this, Senator: After working on seven farm bills, will your presence be essential to pass an eighth? Probably not.
This isn’t a problem just for Pat Roberts. All congressional incumbents will face headwinds in 2018 and 2020, not because they’ve passed bad bills but because they’ve done virtually nothing of consequence. The public eventually grows tired of paying members of the House and Senate without anything to show for it.
We’ll know soon if any of this bothers Roberts. He may run again in 2020 because living in Washington as a senator can be fun. The steaks and the seafood are great; the wine flows; the cherry blossoms are pretty around this time of year.
Dozens of staffers depend on you for their livelihood. That will play a role, too.
But Roberts will be hard-pressed to claim he wants to “make a difference” for Kansas. In Congress, there is no longer any difference to be made. It’s all sound and fury, then nothing.