Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Washington in 2010:
Bribery and scheming and corruption, oh my!

Most Americans know who Thomas Jefferson was. He was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence and one of the most influential of the founders of this nation. He was Governor of Virginia, the first Secretary of State of the United States, and the nation’s third president, serving eight years beginning in 1801. As a major figure in the founding of the United States of America he fully understood the reasons the colonies split from Great Britain, and his beliefs were fairly representative of the people of the times who decided the oppressive and tax-crazed British government was destructive of the freedoms the Creator intended for human beings.

Mr. Jefferson had a lot to say about the form of government that best allows people to live in freedom, and one of his most famous quotes is, “That government is best which governs the least ...”

Sometime before he died in 1826 he said, “I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labour of the industrious.” If he believed that statement was true in or before 1826, what do you suppose he would think today?

The federal government has been too big, too expensive and too authoritarian for quite a while – nearly 200 years, according to Mr. Jefferson – but it has become intolerable this year, as so capably illustrated by the health care reform fiasco: Even though most people don’t like the bill, the leaders were determined to pass it with only Democrat support, if enough Democrat arms could be twisted to get the votes required for passage. If not, they would force it through in an underhanded scheme to pass it without actually voting on it. And while all of this was going on, states are passing legislation to prevent the feds from forcing their citizens to participate in the program, an intrusion into states rights, and are threatening to sue the federal government over it. What a circus!

Our gargantuan, wealth-consuming, non-attentive government has a legislature that is isolated from the citizenry it represents. In the early days we had a part-time citizen legislature made up of farmers and merchants, and so forth, who went to the capital for a month or two, did their work, and returned to their normal lives as farmers and merchants, and were in close touch with the people who elected them.

Today’s career politician is as far from being a citizen legislator as the Earth is from the Sun. They aren’t in Washington for 60 or 90 days and then home again; they are there their entire term of office. They have a second residence in or near DC where they live during their tenure, and even if they use the scheduled work sessions at home, going back to their home state or district is more like a vacation or a business trip. Their home is Washington, DC, not the state or district they represent.

We pay them well to be isolated from their constituents. Rank-and-file members of the Congress receive $174,000 per year, Majority and Minority Leaders receive $193,400, and the Speaker of the House receives $223,500, and all get generous retirement and health benefits funded by tax dollars, though most make contributions of their salary and also pay 6.2 percent of their salary in Social Security taxes.

If legislators were in office for only a couple of years, being separated from their constituents might not be so much of a problem, but many of them are there for decades. No wonder their priorities get confused and they forget who they work for. Combine this isolation with the pressures of partisan politics, and you have an atmosphere ripe for the sort of malfeasance we see today in the health care reform movement. If nothing else screams at you that we seriously need change in how Washington works, this should do the trick.

Anyone who participated in that disgraceful process should be removed from office, and that would be a good start to restoring honest representative government to the United States. After that, three beneficial changes should be considered:

1. Term limits for Congress. The president can serve only eight years; why should Congress be different? So, Senators get one eight-year term and Representatives get up to two four-year terms, and then home they go to become normal Americans again.

2. Limit Congressional sessions to one three-month session or two two-month sessions. Between sessions members go back to their real job and the pay that goes with it.

3. Members of Congress will be paid a salary that is a bit higher than the U.S. average income, and a housing allowance. Real emergencies may warrant longer sessions, but with reduced pay. Being in the service of your fellow Americans should not be a lucrative venture for public servants.

America’s journey from greatness to mediocrity – once a long, slow decline – has been dramatically sped up by our president and his fellow statists in Congress. Unless something dramatic happens very soon, we will live in the once-great United States.

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