Thursday, September 02, 2010

Reforming Congress

By now, Dear Readers, you are surely tired of hearing me bloviate about the shortcomings of our elected reprehensives and the superb job they're not doing of addressing the country's ills. But as tired as you are of hearing me whine, I'm at least as tired of having people forward me hysterical political e-mails with themes ranging from the relatively genteel Throw the Bums Out to the more bloodthirsty ones that involve Taking Back the Country (from whom, one wonders) and blood running in the streets.

Yesterday, my brother forwarded me a chain political e-mail that I nearly deleted on principle, but which I decided, on reflection, had a few ideas worth entertaining. It was titled "The Congressional Reform Act of 2010," and listed eight suggestions for reforming Congress. Here are the eight ideas (with the grammar and spelling appropriately edited), and my comments thereon:

1. "Term Limits: service in Congress should be limited to a total of 12 years, according to one of three options:
a. Two Six year Senate terms; or,
b. Six Two year House terms; or,
c. One Six year Senate term and three Two Year House terms."

This isn't necessarily a bad idea. One of the problems of the current system is that a relatively small number of very long-serving Members of Congress can wield extraordinary power based on their seniority. If they are in powerful positions, they can skew the entire work of the Congress. Remember Senator Byrd?

2. "No Tenure/No Pension: Members of Congress collect a salary while in office and receive no pay once out of office."

There's nothing wrong with someone earning a pension for honest work done. Tenure is another matter, wrapped up in the term limits discussion in point 1 above.

3. "Members of Congress should be required to participate in Social Security and pay Social Security taxes. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately, all future funds flow into the Social Security system, and members of Congress participate with the rest of the American people."

I think it's ludicrous that Congress has exempted itself from paying into Social Security. Laws that apply to the average American need to apply to Congress as well. If members of Congress were required to pay into Social Security, they might take more seriously the need to ensure its solvency.

4. "Members of Congress purchase their own retirement plan, just like average Americans do."

As I contemplate the smoking hole where my retirement savings used to be, I wish that members of Congress could work with the same worries for their future that Real People do. This relates, of course, to point 3 above.

5. "Congress will no longer be empowered to vote itself a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%."

If I understand the system correctly, pay raises voted by Congress don't take effect until the next session, so there isn't anything wrong in principle with the current system. However, it would be nice if there was some way to tie pay to performance...

6. "Congress loses its current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people."

Perhaps members of Congress would take real health care reform more seriously if they had to worry about it the same way Real People do.

7. "Congress must obey all laws it imposes on the American people."

Amazingly enough, many laws passed by Congress do not apply to Congress. This is a travesty that needs to change.

8. "All contracts with past and present congressmen are void effective 1/1/11. The American people did not make this contract with congressmen, congressmen made all these contracts for themselves."

This one is a bit of silly demagoguery. There's nothing wrong in principle with a former member of Congress hiring out to make a living. Serving members should be prohibited from holding other jobs or entering into contracts which could result in conflicts of interest.

This is a topic that requires a lot more thought and serious discussion than I can provide in the half-hour or so I have to apply to it. We'll come back to some of these ideas later. In the meantime, what do you think? Am I off base with my comments?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



KKTSews said...

many are great ideas. I think on the pension, congress ought to have TSP (the govt 401k plan) and Social Security. Enjoy those 10 choices for your investments!

John said...

I like it...where do I sign up to support it.

Except for maybe term limits--I haven't decided on that yet. In my simple mind we have the right to limit terms every two years for Congressmen, every 4 years for President and every 6 years for Senators--they're called elections. I think that campaign funding needs to be reformed so that incumbents don't have the huge financial advantage.

Other than that, I'm in!

wv: subrem..the sleep stage just before and just after REM sleep

Raquel's World said...

I love the reform! I think that is more government officials had to live by the standards and limitations they put on the rest of the world they would do a better job at determining what those standards should be. I also feel that "they" should have no problem with this. After all it is their ideas and if "they" agree that they are good for us then they are good for them. Interesting info, I appreciated this.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I support it too, especially term limits. Why should term limits only be for the president? Some politicians do not know the meaning of the word RETIRE. And the average voter doesn't pay attention to issues and thus votes the most familiar name in.

Mike said...

We have term limits in Missouri. What we are starting to see is nobody filing for offices from some parties. I.E. there will be one candidate from one party running for an office. You would be surprised how many people DON'T want to be in politics.

Anonymous said...

Actually, whoever came up with these ideas is merely restoring the original intent of the authors of the constitution. Serving in Congress was originally considered a burden a patiot bore on behalf of his (no women then) constituents. Even the President didn't used to receive a pension--US Grant wrote his masterpiece history of the Civil War to pay his bills--and he knew he was dying at the time. Abe Lincoln served only one term as a congressman, because it basically sucked to be a Congressman in those days (living in a boarding house in a fever swamp). Put me down for supporting every recommendation, except the last, which violates the constitutional ban on federal intereference with the sanctity of contracts. They can all be lobbyists when they get tossed out, but they will not be able to give any person running for office any gift, emolument, or promise of consideration! In other words, we preserve the right of the people to petition, and take away the practice of buying a hearing!

For once Bilbo and I almost reach agreement on something!

Eminence Grise

Bilbo said...

Katherine - nice to lead off with an agreement!

John - you're right about the term limits issue. Ultimately, it's the voters who impose term limits. But as long as seniority breeds power (and money) the voters will keep bringing people back.

Raquel - happy to be of service!

Andrea - your last sentence, unfortunately, says it all.

Mike - that's another interesting issue: people are willing to perform public service, but are turned off by "politics." I feel another post coming on...

Eminence - that explains the shaking earth I felt earlier...

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Some really good ideas there...they would probably get thrown right out!