|another century, similar views -- from the Library of Congress|
Murphys, Ca -- About the only thing U.S. citizens agree upon these days is that Congress is awful.
Not as in “awe-inspiring,” but as in “terrible.”
Congress is less popular than the media.
Congress is even less popular than the President.
We all have different reasons for disliking Congress, or our congressional representative, but at least we can all agree they collectively do a lousy job.
So, I think it is time to reform Congress, and it should not be too hard to do. Change a few laws. Change a few rules.
Here are a few ideas and reforms that kept me awake last night, and I would appreciate it if you who read this will take the time to express your opinion, either in the comments section below, or on Facebook, or on a local soap box. Just speak up.
1. Let’s get serious about time limits for the House and Senate. I propose two four-year terms for House representatives, and two six year terms for the U.S. Senate. These suggestions are not unique: President Eisenhower begged us to make this change as he ended his tenure in office. He cited the same reasons we would: every congressman is always running for reelection and therefore does not devote time and energy to the job at hand. They are too busy pandering to would-be voters to do what is right and necessary.
You can pick your own example, but there are many. We have way too many old white guys (like me) making decisions. Let the younger folks have a shot.
2. Change the congressional pay to be less of an incentive. Today the House members get a base salary of $174,000. The average U.S. wage earner makes $44, 321.67. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and pay them twice what most of use make: around $88,000 per year should be about right. (The first representatives got $6 a day, but only for days they worked.) You may have noticed that Congressmen are mostly rich, averaging a million dollars a year from private and public sources. That’s one reason they don’t act like normal people.
3. We want our elected officials to reflect us, right? So let’s limit the trappings of power that we now spend billions on. Start by limiting every representative to one secretary/administrative assistant, and one staff member, and one taxpayer funded office in Washington and one in the district. You will note that I have eliminated every “spokesman” we now pay with tax dollars. Let the congressmen we elect speak for themselves.
Have you ever asked your congressman how many people work for him?
Has he ever answered you?
4. Require representatives to actually work five days a week, 48 weeks a year. I’d be generous and give them the 4 weeks vacation, so long as they pay for travel and accommodations themselves. That means they have to keep office hours either in Washington or at home districts, just like normal people.
5. Ban all gifts worth more than $25 to representatives, and staff. They don’t need all those freebies and it looks bad. Stinks, actually.
6. We all understand that running for office takes money, and since we want to be fair, let’s have the same rule apply to all officials: contributions can come from anywhere so long as they do not exceed $25 and the name and employer of the donor are public record.
7. Congressmen complain that they have so little time and so many people want to see them, so let’s help them by setting a rule that says the priority for an appointment goes to a person from their district, second priority to individuals from their state, and last priority to representatives of corporations or organizations (we call them lobbyist). And to make everyone have a chance, let’s limit all visits to 30 minutes for people they represent, and 15 for lobbyist, whether they are from the corporate timber company or the Sierra Club. Fair's fair.
8. Congressmen need a travel allowance (they actually have a generous one already), so we will let them keep enough to pay for four trips back to the district every year, but ban anyone else paying for or providing transportation. No corporate jets. No limos in New York City. No trips to ski resorts or Hawaii for “consultations.”
9. No relatives on the congressional payroll, any time, anywhere.
10. Since our elected officials are working for our interests, and we are paying them, we need to make sure everything they do while in office is open and visible to the public. That means all correspondence (national security is exempt) is available, all meetings are logged and subjects disclosed, and if minutes are kept, they should be made available to the public, at a charge not to exceed the per page cost at the closest Kinko print shop. Yes, that means e-mails and Facebook postings when done on government time.
This list could go on and on, and surely you have some ideas of your own. Feel free to add them, or challenge these.