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Ye olde Senate

Joseph Morton, a reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, sat down with Ben Nelson to ask about Tom Harkin's proposal to cap ATM fees. What follows was, well, you'd better read for yourself:

The Nebraska Democrat pleaded ignorance when asked this week whether Congress should cap ATM fees. Nelson said that while he's no fan of unnecessary fees, he's unfamiliar with the charges.

“I've never used an ATM, so I don't know what the fees are,” Nelson said, adding that he gets his cash from bank tellers, just not automatic ones. “It's true, I don't know how to use one.

“But I could learn how to do it just like I've … I swipe to get my own gas, buy groceries. I know about the holograms.”

By “holograms,” Nelson clarified that he meant the bar codes on products read by automatic scanners in the checkout lanes at stores such as Lowe's and Menard's.

“I go and get my own seating assignment on an airplane,” Nelson said. “I mean, I'm not without some skills. I just haven't had the need to use an ATM.”

I don't think Nelson is relatively more, or less, out-of-touch than his fellow senators. I've heard too many stories about how this senator doesn't use a computer or that senator isn't comfortable with e-mail to think the institution anything but distant from a worrying array of modern technologies. But I do think the frequency of these stories is worrying.

As Jonathan Bernstein has argued before, the current Senate is the oldest Senate in history, with the average age about 63. Age brings wisdom, of course, but concentrating our upper chamber in a particular age group also brings costs, not least in familiarity with new technologies whose development the Senate has quite a bit of say over. This might not matter that much, as the relevant decisions are being made by staff and lobbyists and advocates, but it probably matters some.

At any rate, one side benefit of an anti-incumbent year may be that a fair amount of new blood gets injected into an institution that could use a bit of it. The Senate's age is largely a function of its reelection rates, so bringing those down should bring the average age down, too.

By Ezra Klein  |  May 20, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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1) Age does not necessarily bring wisdom, at least in the sense of improving your contribution to the workplace. My general observation of my colleagues when I was in government was that somewhere in their early 60's, they started to get rigid and programmed in their responses, and had difficulty adjusting to new situations. The ones that hung on past 65 were generally pretty useless. (I am in my 60's, so I get to say these things!)

2) One of the things that puzzled me most about the Bennet and Specter defeats was all the moaning and amoung commentators about how sad it was that their 'careers were ended." They were 77 and 80 years old, for goodness sakes! A big part of our problem is dottering old fools who won't get off the stage when their act is over. (Can anyone say McCain?)

Posted by: exgovgirl | May 20, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

We also probably have the oldest labor force in our history. True?

And we think that as a matter of deficit reduction and public policy we should push the age of eligibility for Social Security back, effectively raising the retirement age.

You are right though -- these guys aren't living in the same world as most of their younger constituents. And it galls that they are voting on things they don't use.

Posted by: janinsanfran | May 20, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

"Joseph Morton, a reporter at the Omaha World-Herald"

I first read that as the Obama World Herald. "What?" I thought. "He's got his own newspaper now?"

"I mean, other than the New York Times?"


"And it galls that they are voting on things they don't use."

You may get senators who use more email or spend more time browsing the Internet. But it's doubtful you'll get folks who are much more in touch with the lives led by the great majority of their constituents. Inspirational or hard luck, the real stories of the lives of their constituents are like fairytales. They can understand them in the abstract, and can pretend empathy, but that has never been their life. And if it ever has been, that part is way, way in the past. Now it's about getting re-elected, again, and bringing home the bacon.

That's not a by-product of their age. My dad is 75 and uses email and the Internet, and is not adverse to purchasing new technogadgets. It's the rarefied environment the work in, and probably grew up in. You could have a much younger crop, and you'd still have almost no one who had seen a business fail (or run a small business) or had to meet a payroll or layoff a bunch of staffers or try to figure out how to buy medicine for their kid with the insurance wouldn't pay and the bank account was empty. There'd be plenty of them who had never set up their own web page. Or programmed their own phone.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | May 20, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm reminded of Bush the elder's amazement at the checkout scanners in a grocery store.

Posted by: bsimon1 | May 20, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure if this is an age issue or rather one of privilege. My father is 73 and emails me from his iPad. Although I would say that I've never met anyone under 50? 60? that would even consider going inside and waiting for a teller to withdraw money when there are ATM's readily available.

Posted by: nylund | May 20, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

how dare you write this post without using the phrase "series of tubes"!

Posted by: erh1103 | May 20, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

... and then there are those of us who don't use ATMs at all because cash in hand or pocket is cash that will be spent pronto. Some of us don't want to have cash, from an ATM or a teller, in our pocket.

Posted by: littleoldlady | May 20, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

bsimon1, stay up to date please. That story (myth) about Bush the Elder was debunked soon after it first appeared.

Perhaps Sen. Nelson's position is that the govt. ought not pass a law restricting fees when a person can get around the fees by lining up to the teller. Perhaps I'm being generous to the senator.

Exgovgirl, as I am well into my 3rd decade of government service and am screaming towards 60, I couldn't agree more with your observations.

Posted by: ShovelPlease | May 20, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

The reason Obama won the last election is because he went after the young vote instead of the geezer vote. Bush and McCain were computer illiterates.

Using an ATM is a real challenge to Senator Nelson. Punching in a four digit pin number requires just too much knowledge and tech savvy. Is he fit for public office?

The seniority system in Congress is inherently evil. It amasses too much political power from politically safe districts. It is a license to steal. We desperately need term limits for members of congress.

Posted by: alance | May 20, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

And the punditry is SURPRISED that everyone is anti-incumbent this election????

Posted by: jeffc6578 | May 20, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Term limits it is. Everyone seems to want them to apply to everyone else. Impose term limits and drastically cut "retirement" benefits for Congress. Then big business will have to work harder to negotiate new rates for purchasing your representatives. At least it will slow them a little.
Sen. Nelson has shown what an (insert anatomical part) his really is.
Continued automatic re-election is usually the result of 1) pork deliveries, and 2) voters too dumb to look at issues and automatically punch a name they recognize.

Posted by: pjohn2 | May 20, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

ATMs are there for the convenience of customers. If it is more convenient for someone to get cash in some other way, there is no need for them to use an ATM. I used to work in a restaurant - I spent my tip money and rarely even withdraw from a bank much less an ATM. I also worked in a building with a bank in the lobby, so no need for an ATM. As someone else said, some people don't like to use cash at all.
Maybe the Senator likes to see and be seen by his constituents at home and finds appearances at the local bank to be useful in ways using an ATM would not be.

Posted by: didnik | May 20, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

That a senator must be intimately familiar with a technology before he can vote on some aspect of it has got to be one of the dumbest sentiments I've read here in a long time.

Posted by: oxhead1 | May 20, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

It's not the age, it's the wealth of these critters that keeps them from knowing anything real

Posted by: newagent99 | May 20, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Kudos, erh1103.

I don't see anything objectionable in Nelson's not using an ATM. For budgeting and accuracy going to the teller is a good idea. Going in once a week to make deposits and withdrawals helps you adhere to a budget. ATMs make it easy to obtain cash, and depending on your personality this can encourage expenditures you really can't afford. Using a teller also makes it easier to generate a paper trail and therefore keep better records -- you can actually watch as the deposit is made, get a paper record from the teller (a much reduced chance that they have run out of paper vs. an ATM). And using a teller gives you someone to blame if something goes wrong, and hopefully a witness to your transactions that can help sort out problems.

Posted by: dollarwatcher | May 20, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

The US Senate increasingly resembles a geriatric House of Lords- Byrd, Dodd, Kennedy, Kerry, Leahy, act like aristocrats wiser than the people they claim to represent. At 80 Specter couldn't remember what party he was a member of. Most of the club is elected by New Englanders, who also appear to believe they are superior to those who live in other areas of the US. Yet when the people manifest anger about the direction the Obama gang is taking us- debt and more debt- liberals take umbrage at the effrontery of the public. Liberals deserve to spend another several decades in political oblivion.

Posted by: mhr614 | May 20, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Same can be said for the Supreme Court.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | May 20, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

They are all career criminals!

They skrew up everything and we reward them with a big salary, lavish perks, and then a big fat pension when they FINALLY leave.

Most re millionaires who buy there way into office and then use their power and authority to serve their own self interests and increase their wealth.

What a big crock of krap!

Posted by: maphound | May 20, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

The entire senate needs to be "flushed, Roto-rootered and disinfected." The infection raging at the Federal level is a code red emergency. Jay Rockefeller and all the other Bilderberger swine gotta go!

Posted by: schratboy | May 20, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

So you dislike New Englanders? And the direction they are taking the country? Don't beat on your sugardaddies - since on average for every $1.00 New Englanders give to the federal govt they get less back:

Maine $1.40 Obama-Biden (16)
Vermont $1.12 Obama-Biden (24)
Rhode Island $1.02 Obama-Biden (31)
Massachusetts $0.77 Obama-Biden (44)
New Hampshire $0.67 Obama-Biden (48)
Connecticut $0.66 Obama-Biden (49)

By contrast the upset conservatives love to get more than they contribute:

New Mexico $2.00 Obama-Biden (1)
Alaska $1.87 McCain-Palin (2)
West Virginia $1.83 McCain-Palin (3)
Mississippi $1.77 McCain-Palin (4)
North Dakota $1.73 McCain-Palin (5)
Alabama $1.71 McCain-Palin (6)
Virginia $1.66 Obama-Biden (7)
Hawaii $1.60 Obama-Biden (8)
Montana $1.58 McCain-Palin (9)
South Dakota $1.49 McCain-Palin (10)
Oklahoma $1.48 McCain-Palin (11)
Arkansas $1.47 McCain-Palin (12)
Kentucky $1.45 McCain-Palin (13)
Louisiana $1.45 McCain-Palin (14)
Maryland $1.44 Obama-Biden (15)

Posted by: dreyno | May 20, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

he probably doesn't need much cash anyway. I'm sure some lobbyist takes care of paying most of his bills.

I will agree this is less about age and more about a group of guys who are people of privilege who don't have to do anything for themselves.

Posted by: fedssocr | May 20, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Comcast must be delighted that our Congressmen are too old to talk techno, but are fluent in the language of money.

Posted by: kingpigeon | May 20, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

With the exception of the Supreme Court, we already HAVE term limits. It's called "running for re-election." If you don't like your public officials, work to defeat them. If we elect incompetents over and over, whose fault is that? Ours. We get the government we deserve.

Posted by: skkalkbrenner | May 20, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Throw them all out--every last one until they learn they work for the American citizen.

Both sides-Corrupt and no longer in touch with the citizens of this country.

Posted by: PennyWisetheClown | May 20, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I would never use an ATM because it could cheat you, and good luck getting that fixed!

Posted by: rjewett | May 20, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I agree that the Congress needs some younger blood. Maybe they could put some door locks in the building that require a card scan and a PIN to enter.;). Geesh, ATMs have been around for 30 years. Very sad.

Term limits aren't the answer. We have them here in California..we've all seen how that's worked out. You end up with experienced lobbyists (many of whom are former representatives) and greenhorn congress members.

Perhaps a simple upper age limit would be best (75?). Sigh,... it's probably discriminatory.

Posted by: Beagle1 | May 20, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

They can't stand each other, are all multi-millionaires and are set for life. They ought to get out of the way and stop destroying our country.

Posted by: Grandblvd03 | May 20, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Interesting that this should be posted today, because the man who invented the ATM just died. He was a Scot named John Shepherd-Barron. He said he came up with the idea after being locked out of a bank. His inspiration was the candy vending machine. Barclays Bank in London installed the first one in 1967.

I frankly don't understand dollarwatcher's post. Who goes to the bank to make deposits any longer unless you are a business owner--direct deposit is the default paycheck choice now. And why would dealing with a teller make you better able to budget than if you used an ATM and kept your receipt records?

Posted by: jhpurdy | May 20, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

The saddest thing is that Nelson seems to think that you can't possibly find out about ATM charges without using an ATM. What are researchers for, after all? Is there no-one in the Token Nebraska Democrat entourage capable of investigating such complex issues?

Posted by: palarran | May 20, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Rather than focus on the age of our senators, let's focus on the fact that the vast majority of our citizens wish to have a service for free. In this case, they wish to remove money from an ATM that is not owned by their personal banking institution. This is a service. This is not free. If you do not like it, go to your own bank ATM where it will be free.

Posted by: jhpbriton | May 20, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Most of the club is elected by New Englanders, who also appear to believe they are superior to those who live in other areas of the US ...

Posted by: mhr614 | May 20, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse


Um. Of New England's 12 senators, four are Republicans, including your Tea Party hero Scott Brown, and a fifth, Joe Lieberman, might as well be. What was that you were saying about superior liberals again? Or maybe you aren't familiar with where New England actually is, since you have Byrd and Specter on your sh*t list? Or maybe you just crawled out of a cave, since you also have Ted Kennedy?

Posted by: gmg22 | May 20, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

No one should be allowed to run for public office after the age of 80. By that age, you have already surpassed the median lifespan of Americans, and so half of your high school class had died of natural causes already.

The 80s are a decade of rapid decline physically and mentally. A fit, healthy 80 year old is likely to be dead within 10 years, and will probably face a debilitating physical obstacle like a stroke, cancer or heart attack during that decade.

Posted by: AxelDC | May 20, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

I knew a lady who didn't use ATMs because "people could go in there and mess around with" her account.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | May 20, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

While Nelson may be averse to using ATMs, I can't imagine that his staffers, who at least theoretically are helping him to shape policy, all join him in that view. For the new tech stuff, Senators/Representatives can go to their staff if they're unwilling to become familiar with it themselves.

Here's a thought -- they may not all represent parts of the country like the major metropolitan communications hubs (NYC, DC, Atlanta, etc.) where everyone has a smartphone and is constantly on it (unlike DC, where we couldn't pry Blackberries out of people's cold, dead hands). There are in fact several places still like this, hard to believe I know.

Posted by: | May 20, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I love it when people try to rationalize their fear of technology. Our representatives need some kind of basic understanding of things they regulate.

Posted by: eeepc | May 20, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Everyone please remember people elected
and repeatedly reelected these old foggies back into office. All of you critics how many times have you voted to reelect the same old foggies back to office, now you stand around and complain about old foggies in office. I myself am in the eighties, use the computer etc. I voted numerous times and never voted to send the same person back to office after two terms.
How many of you critics voted to send the same old foggie back after two terms? The house is up for election every two years. Every one should vote these flunky stooges out of office. How many of you will vote to reelect the same stooge who has been in office for more than two terms back for more terms? I say vote every one of them out of office starting this November.

Posted by: kurous1serious | May 20, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm 62 and reading these comments make me want to stay on my job another 20 years if it will block some twenty something from getting it. The class of 2010 is about to graduate while the class of 2009 is still waiting tables. I love it.

Posted by: brewstercounty | May 20, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

As a fifty-something, I am offended by the idea that old people can't grasp new technology. I have both a blog and a website, and even my 85 year old mother has used an ATM. The problem here is not age, but privilege--people who have flunkies to carry around their money, and hired help to get through the mundange part of their lives that the rest of us have to deal with. Having a younger walled-off elite will not fix anything.

Posted by: ciocia1 | May 20, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Don't like ATM fees? Talk to Chuck:

What a perfect example for why politicians should have as little power as possible. This guy gets to vote on an issue he has zero understanding of, and the bill in question is trying to solve a problem that has already been solved.

The market already took care of this problem. Anyone who was bothered by ATM fees - really bothered - should have fired up "the Google" and typed in 'No ATM Fee Banking'.

Here's another link.

By the way, that a politician - who is paid in tax dollars - could call ATM fees "legal thievery" is simply astounding. ATM fees are simply a voluntary payment for a service. If you don't like it, use your own bank's ATMs (or again, talk to Chuck).

Posted by: justin84 | May 20, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Not knowing about ATMs is not an indictment of anyone about technology. Is there anyone out there that thinks using an ATM is a real test of genius? If so, I feel sorry for you.

Anyway, I just think the Liberal Klein wanted to attack a moderate Democrat so he found a reason to do so.

Most of Klein's writings belong in a junior high school newspaper which is pretty much what the Washington Post is becoming.

Posted by: hz9604 | May 20, 2010 8:41 PM | Report abuse

The reason Obama won the last election is because he went after the young vote instead of the geezer vote. Bush and McCain were computer illiterates.

Yet Obama claimed that he could not use an Ipad or several other things in a recent commencement speech.

Posted by: hz9604 | May 20, 2010 9:07 PM | Report abuse

The problem with the comments made by these Senators is not so much that they do not use ATMs but seem to be lacking in knowledge about how they work. If they do not understand or use financial products, how are they understanding or voting on a 1400 page document discussing regulation of many sophisticated products? And age really is not the issue for all the age bangers. I am 62 and never met a techno product or gadget that I did not want to have.

Another thought is that people need to educate themselves about their financial lives. ATM fees, overdraft fees, etc can be eliminated if you are properly using the services. In other words, use your FI's network of ATMs and balance your checking.

Posted by: LuLu69 | May 21, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

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