Service in Congress should not be a means to become wealthy

To William Allen White’s famed three things no one can do to the satisfaction of anyone else, add this: Fix Congress.

There are plenty of ideas out there about how to fix what everyone seems to agree is badly broken. All one needs to do is ask someone. Anyone. Everyone who is breathing knows what should be done.

Among the political junkies who peruse the Internet, there is a proposal that might actually work, or at least most of it might. And what’s more, the author, whose identity got lost somewhere in cyberspace, thinks the founders themselves might approve.

And let’s face it, there are just about as many people who know exactly what the founders had in mind when they scribbled the Constitution as there are people who are sure they know how to fix Congress, poke a fire, make love and edit a newspaper. (Now, if you were unsure before, you know the three things White had in mind in 1917 when he enumerated the acts bound to be unacceptable to everyone.)

My personal favorite of the I-know-what-the-founders-meant crowd is Sarah Palin. She may not read much more deeply than a matchbook cover, but she’s more than happy to tell the rest of us among the great unwashed just what was on the minds of Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Madison, Franklin, et al., in Philadelphia in 1787.

I don’t pretend to be an expert, certainly not of the Sarah Palin variety, but my gut says those guys may have signed off on these steps to fix Congress:

✓ Term limits. You can serve two, six-year terms in the Senate; or six, two-year terms in the House; or a six-year term in the Senate and three two-year terms in the House. No exceptions.

✓ All congressmen, those who are there now, those who have been there before and those who will be there in the future, will participate in Social Security. No exceptions.

✓ No congressional pension. Congressmen have to figure out their retirement just like everyone else. Again, no exceptions.

✓ Congress can’t vote themselves a pay raise. Pay will rise by either 3 percent or the consumer price index, whichever is lower. No exceptions.

✓ The congressional health care system goes away. Congressmen must go to the marketplace to find health insurance. No exceptions.

✓ Congress must abide by all laws it imposes on the rest of us. Period. No exceptions.

✓ All contracts with current and former congressmen are void. And yes, no exceptions.

That’s all an interesting proposition, and one that if it were, say, put to a vote, I’m sure would pass overwhelmingly among every voter cohort one could dream up with the exception of current and former congressmen.

And with the exception of the last point, I can’t see why it wouldn’t pass muster in the courts. (Contracts are contracts, and as much as we don’t like the largesse we lavish on former public servants, there is a certain unfairness to unilaterally taking it away.)

Term limits would have to be established through an amendment to the federal Constitution, since the U.S. Supreme Court has already rejected state-initiated term limits for members of Congress.

And I’d add one more point of my own. Former congressmen can’t lobby Congress. Ever. No exceptions. The fancy offices on K Street in Washington are where the people we send to Washington really get rich. That’s where they go after they leave Congress and they no longer have to give lip service to the needs of those of us who sent them to Washington in the first place.

The point of all of this is that public service should be just that, public service. It should not be a means to a lavish lifestyle.

None of this, of course, is likely to happen. We can’t even get the rules changed so the majority actually rules. You can bet the founders believed what we all learned in elementary school: A majority is one more than half. Except in the United States Senate, where the rules effectively mean it takes 60 votes to get something passed.

Maybe someday.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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