Submitted by Digger Cartwright
We all know that the current atmosphere in Washington, D.C. can be described as dysfunctional. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to ways that our dysfunctional political system could be fixed. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
•Term Limits—Our Founding Fathers did not envision a system in which we had career politicians. Serving in the government was an honor, but it was a short-lived responsibility. Our leaders back then were planters, lawyers, tradesmen, businessmen, first and foremost. They were politicians second. They served their country then went home and back to their careers and business. Were there some career politicians? Yes, but nothing like the number of career politicians that we have today. Term limits today would take away power in the hands of a few senior senators and congressmen who control powerful committees that make laws, develop budgets, etc. Serving in the Congress should not be about amassing power because you’ve been there the longest. Serving in the Congress should be about doing what is best for America.
If you’re a newly elected congressman, the first thing that is going to happen when you get to the Capitol is that leaders from your party are going to say this, “You’re going to vote for this, this and this, and we’re going to put you on this committee and you’re going to do this. If you don’t do what we tell you to do, you’ll be put in the icebox and never get anything for your district.” The Congress shouldn’t work that way. Each and every elected representative should be on equal footing with everyone else there. Term limits would bring fresh blood and new ideas into the government on a more regular basis and perhaps do away with bitter, long running rivalries between certain personalities on opposing parties. If the President of the United States has a term limit, why shouldn’t the members of the Congress also have a term limit?
•Strong Third Party—I have long argued that America needs a strong and viable third party. I thought we came close to that with Ross Perot back in 1992. We need a good, solid third party that’s made up of the centrists in both the Republican and Democratic parties, the moderates as they are called, like the Libertarian party. If we had ten or twenty Libertarians in the Senate and eighty or a hundred in the House and the rest of the seats were fairly evenly divided, it would force compromise to get anything done and limit the ability of extremists in each party to force through damaging legislation.
Let’s look at the United Kingdom. They’ve got three major parties: the Tories (Conservatives), the Labour, and the Liberal Democrats. The Tories have 305 seats out of a total of 650 seats in the House of Commons. Labour has 253 seats and the Liberal Dems have 57 seats. The other parties have about thirty seats or so. As you can see, no one party won a majority to form a government, so the Tories decided to work with the Liberal Dems to form a coalition government. The Tories can’t get anything done without the help and support of the Liberal Dems, who don’t always side with the Tories. It makes for an interesting working relationship and lots of compromise. Wouldn’t this be a good thing in Washington, D.C.? It seems like a lot more would potentially get done for the American people and less time wasted in bickering between the two parties. Sadly, the two main parties aren’t going to let a third party be successful and will work against any third party candidate. And it seems like the media is against third party candidates as well. When was the last time you heard CNN or Fox News or CBS or NBC or ABC mention a Libertarian candidate? I seem to recall as well that Ralph Nader when he ran for President with the Green party wasn’t even invited to most of the debates. Why doesn’t the establishment and the media want a viable third party?
•End Lobbying—Here’s a simple way to look at this issue: Lobbying=Corruption. Here how it works. Congressman Doe or Senator Smith decide to retire and go to work for XYZ Lobbying in Washington. Since they know a lot of people in the Congress, they have access to them to talk about issues and problems; they can bend their ear and get the inside track as to what is going on in the Congress. So, XYZ Lobbying is hired by the Anti-Widget group to get legislation passed in the Congress to outlaw widget manufacturing. Senator Smith then schmoozes with members of the Congress to try to influence their vote on the anti-widget bill. This may involve nice lunches, trips, tickets to events, and so on. Oh, of course, it’s not that flagrantly obvious. It’s usually disguised some other way so that it doesn’t come across as graft but that’s what we’re talking about here—using money to influence the Congress. It happens each and every single day.
There’s no money in politics; the money is in the graft. Lobbying corrupts the integrity of the Congress and its members and is nothing more than good, old fashioned vote buying. Poor Rod Blagojevich is going to be spending the next 14 years in prison for trying to sell the Illinois Senate seat vacated by Obama when he was elected President. I’m not defending what he did by any means, but if we’re going to put him in prison for that we need to start investigating the entire Congress. What he did goes on everyday in Washington and every member of the Congress has been lobbied for something. Let’s not be hypocritical about this. Every Congressman and Senator should renounce lobbying and support legislation to ban the practice. Does anyone else think it suspicious that most of the members of the Congress end up millionaires? Maybe that’s why they’re not willing to ban lobbying.
•Cut Congressional Pay, Benefits, and Time Congress is in Session—Members of the Congress certainly wouldn’t like this, but let’s remember nearly 50% are already millionaires. If we can take out the graft from lobbying and cut the pay and benefits and retirement, maybe we can get some people elected who are actually interested in solving America’s great problems and not just looking to fatten their bank accounts at the expense of the American taxpayers. Congress should be part time and they should be held to account if they aren’t able to get the job done in their allotted time frame. Let’s look at this scenario. Let’s say the Congress is in session from January through March, the month of June, and again in October and November up to Thanksgiving. Perhaps we should make it that all members of the Congress are paid $30,000 per year for this part-time service or a per diem. The rest of the time, they need to go back to the districts they represent and their jobs. If you work for someone else, your employer must hold your job for you while you are serving in the Congress. While you’re back home, you’re going to be hearing a lot from the people of your district and you’re going to have to explain to them what was accomplished while you were in Washington, D.C. With this scenario, no one is going to be getting rich from public service. Isn’t that how our Founding Fathers envisioned this? Isn’t that, in fact, how they did things? In the early days, members of the Congress received a small per diem of $6.00. They didn’t start getting paid a salary until 1855. Who’s going to accomplish more—the Congressman only making $30,000 per year and having to work the normal job as well or the Congressman who makes $174,000 per year and does this for a living with more benefits from lobbyists? I think more gets accomplished by someone who isn’t financially motivated for being there. If you’re going to serve as a Congressman and only make $30,000, you’re probably there because you want to be there and you feel you can make a difference.
•Balanced Budget Amendment and Massive Restructuring of the Federal Government—Not only does this help to stop the profligate waste of taxpayer money in the federal government, it would devolve many powers that have been usurped by the federal government back to the states. After all, it’s easy to spend other people’s money, and the Congress is pretty good at that. First, we need to substantially reduce the size of the federal government by restructuring departments to reduce overlapping programmes and eliminating a number of departments, agencies, and programmes. For example, the Departments of Education, Energy, and Housing & Urban Development, just to name a few, could be permanently eliminated with education being devolved to the states. Second, once the federal government has been restructured and cut to a more manageable level, the Congress can develop a balanced budget rule with caps on spending increases. The Congress would then have to work within the framework of how much revenue has been generated to fund government departments and programmes. With less size and scope of the federal government and limitations on spending, members of the Congress would be forced to be more judicious when it comes to spending and would be required to work within strict guidelines. Thus, the Congress wouldn’t be debating endlessly about deficits and raising the debt ceiling. Not only is a leaner, more efficient federal government in the best interests of the American taxpayers, it is also an effective means of streamlining incessant budget debates over bloated departments. What taxpayer wouldn’t agree that tightening the purse string is a good idea, particularly when it comes to members of the Congress who control spending and don’t seem to care how much they spend?
•Eliminate Riders and Amendments to Bills—Why should any bill put forth in the Congress get amended to include legislation not in any way related to the original bill? Shouldn’t each and every single bill get voted on by itself without riders or amendments? Shouldn’t the merits of the bill itself be the chief factor in determining whether it passes and not because there was some rider that got some votes to ensure passage? I think the majority of American people would find this abjectly wrong. That’s why we have bills that are thousands of pages long and that never get read by members of the Congress. It should be fairly simple—the proposed legislation should fit on less than two pieces of legal paper. The Bill of Rights didn’t need much more space than that. Do we really need these complex documents that no one seems to read or understand? Absolutely not! Riders are simply another way that members of the Congress slip in pet projects for their district or state that may not stand the muster of a vote by itself. This needs to change. Obviously, the members of the Congress are too lazy or too busy or too stupid to read the entire bill. But then again, would you want to read a thousand pages of lawyer language? Simplification is the key. If the everyday man or woman can’t understand what’s going on, why should we entrust members of the Congress who have admitted to not reading the bills to know any better? Let’s try this: Put each bill on two pages. Post the bill online for public review for at least thirty days prior to a vote. Let the people review it and if they have questions or concerns or objections their voices can be heard online or via telephone calls to their elected officials.
•Make Congress Like Jury Duty—This is a pretty revolutionary concept. Let’s make serving in the Congress like jury duty. If you meet certain qualifications (education, citizenship, etc.) and if your number gets called up, you’re going to be the congressman or senator for the next two years or six years, respectively. If this system is good enough to determine a person’s fate in a court of law, why wouldn’t this work in running our country? Your number gets called, and you’ll be expected to show up in Washington to serve your term. While in Washington, these people can be housed and fed as part of the package, given a per diem and salary as previously discussed, or a combination of this. I think it would bring more common sense to Washington and make the Congress more like our Founding Fathers had envisioned. And, it does away with endless campaigning that diverts time resources from the candidate and billions of dollars that could be better spent elsewhere on campaigning. There are millions of American citizens and taxpayers who have good ideas that could help our country. However, politicians are always telling us why our ideas won’t work and why their ideas are the best. Does anyone else find this insulting? It sounds like the members of the Congress are intellectual elitists—you know, the kind of people who know better than you and who, therefore, should do the thinking for you. America has massive problems ahead. Let’s get some new ideas and new people from all walks of life working together to solve these challenges. I think we would be surprised at how much more efficiently and effectively the Congress would be.
•Vote Them All Out and Start Over—Well, this idea is pretty simple. What we’ve got in Washington, D.C. right now isn’t working. So, let’s get rid of all of them. Wipe the slate clean, and start all over. If you’ve been in the federal government before, whether elected or not, the people just shouldn’t vote to you. If we keep electing them, we’ll just get more of the same as former members of the Congress or of the government will come out of the woodwork to get back into some position of power. Each and every seat in the Congress belongs to the American people, not one individual or any particular party. We don’t have peerages in America where you get a seat if you have a certain hereditary advantage. The American people need to wake up and smell the roses. The people in Washington aren’t working for you. They’re working for themselves and they will do or say whatever it takes for self preservation—for keeping their seat and position. The media is biased and is going to push certain candidates who support a particular agenda. Let’s educate the American people about how they’re being taken advantage of by the politicians and their special interest financial backers and lobbyists in Washington. Let’s find some good, hardworking American citizens and taxpayers to run for these seats and let’s get them elected. Let’s tell the media to start reporting the news and not trying to make the news so that the voting population can be informed about the candidates, their qualifications, and their goals for America. Let’s get people elected to the Congress who aren’t career politicians or lawyers but who are interested in saving America from the self destructive path that we’re being led down.
To be sure, there are probably many other ways that we can address the dysfunction and gridlock in Washington. I think we can all agree that we need solutions not just lectures from politicians on who is to blame for this or that and excuses on why this hasn’t been done and so on. Robert Frost once said that, “Freedom lies in being bold.” We need bold solutions to our problems, and that necessitates a better working relationship between the parties in Washington. Maybe these solutions can help get us on track.