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Monday, July 25, 2011

How to Fix Congress, in One Easy Decade

Occasionally, my political side sneaks out....

How to Fix Congress, in One Easy Decade

The intent of the founding fathers was that legislators serve in the Congress for a few years, then go home and rejoin the ranks of regular people. In so doing, we would ensure that the people in Washington never lost touch with the needs of everyday people, because they would BE everyday people. Government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address) does not provide for career politicians.

Where did we go wrong? I suppose it was with a combination of things. Some of those have been ambitious power-grabbers who saw ways to have wealth and authority over the long haul; early communication systems that were not the greatest, and manipulative campaigns, fueled by massive organizations with the same goals. All of these allowed those people to pull the wool over lots of eyes. Gullibility and/or complacency on the part of the masses contributed. We let them take over. We allowed them to vote themselves into permanent positions. We gave them license to raise their own salaries and give themselves sumptuous perks, including lifetime pensions, healthcare plans far better than we will ever see, and jet travel and vacations at our expense. We even ignored it when they voted to amend the tax codes in their favor. (Do you know that “first time home buyers in the District of Columbia” get breaks that no one else does? And who would those people be?) We allowed it to happen, but it’s time to insist that it stop.

No matter how good they may be in their positions, lifetime politicians are inevitably going to become jaded, out-of-touch, Washington insiders who are more concerned about keeping their jobs than they are about moving this country in the right direction. That’s why we have “pork barrel” issues—these are projects that Congresspeople promote because it will make their constituents happy in the short term, thereby ensuring their reelections. I know there are exceptions—people who are really trying to help the residents of their states—but they are few and far between. When someone’s job depends on getting good things on the resume, there will be corruption. After FDR, we were smart enough to realize that the Presidency should not be conferred on any one person for too long. Why have we not seen the larger need to implement this in Congress?

I propose that we mount a grassroots campaign to go back to basics.

· No one in the legislative branch would be allowed to serve for more than six years consecutively. That means one term in the Senate and up to 3 terms in the House of Representatives. After that period of time, they would be required to go home and work regular jobs—NO LOBBYING! (In fact, there would be severe penalties for violation of this rule. Even if it’s not a law, WE can ensure that it is enforced by the way we vote.) After four years of working in the real world, they could again run for office.

· Benefits for members of Congress would be decided by the voters in open elections. They would not have the right to change any of their own benefits. (They decide ours—why do we have no say in theirs?)

· No global benefits for Congress (such as healthcare packages) could exceed those offered to the general public. PERIOD.

· Pensions, if any, could not exceed those offered to other government workers for service over the same period of years. (We may not want to offer pensions when people are serving only 6 years in a job. Besides, lack of pensions in Congress would be an incentive for people to go back to the real world and save for retirement just like the rest of us.)

· Salaries of Congress people would be reduced, and the perks severely curtailed. How can they relate to the middle and lower classes if they are living lives of privilege? Salaries should not exceed $100,000 per year, maximum. That’s enough for anybody to live on. Many of them are independently wealthy anyway—they don’t need the paycheck. (Take a page from George Washington’s book, people.)

To this end, I intend to carefully scrutinize the activities and service/voting records of every member of state and federal legislatures over whom I can exert my control (i.e., my vote) and do my part to begin returning this country to the system that was intended.

Of course, no one in Congress will endorse this plan—it frustrates their career goals. But we don’t need their support or their stamp of approval. We have the vote—that’s all we need. We can carefully look at the records of everyone who runs for office. If they’ve been there 6 years, out they go—no exceptions. If they want to come back, they can run again in four years; and if they are reelected, it is much more likely that it will be because of their merits—not our complacency.

Some would argue that we need seasoned pros in office. Fine. They can have served as mayors, city councilpeople, governors, etc. They can get experience along the way. And again, they are welcome to run for office after going back to civilian life. But the life of privilege that they now enjoy as career politicians has got to end. They only way to stop corruption is to take the possibility of corruption away from everyone. (Sure, there will be those who will manage to ruin themselves despite our efforts, but they will be fewer, farther between, and the damage they can inflict will be less.)

We may not be able to change the laws regarding their benefits right off the bat, but we can remove from office the people who made those laws; that will be a sound beginning. If every voter follows this plan over the next decade, 2022 will see us with totally NEW state and federal Congresses, full of people there to do right by this country, with no personal gain in mind.

The vote is a powerful tool. If we think about how we are using it, we can take our country back.

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