Congress is gridlocked. Why? Apart from ideological division about what we ought to be doing– first time in decades we seen any at all and it is a healthy thing– because legislators fear doing anything that might imperil their reelection chances in an election year. How do we fix this problem? By making sure the legislators in question do not have a career to protect; or one that isn’t worth protecting.
Politico went up late yesterday with a two-segment piece detailing the [in]action in Congress; the first detailing the problems screaming for solution, and the second emphasizing the fact Congress hasn’t, and doesn’t intend to, do anything about them. The Politico pieces are not lonely; every media outlet has been running articles and op-eds and editorials about the inaction in Congress for years now, and all of them are right. The Congress is not cutting the mustard, and they fully merit the incredibly low approval rating they now enjoy. As I have said, partly this is due to the fact, for a wonder, we actually have a few legislators in the beltway who are worried about what their constituents think for a change. Some of the division in Congress reflects division in the electorate. We, the People, really are divided about what we want to do and more importantly, which level of government we want to do it. It will come as no surprise to my long-term readers I am a proponent of federalism, and would like to see the feds restricted to a very strict interpretation of Article 1, Section 8 and leave the remaining matters in the hands of the several States. Just as a suggestion, I’d like to propose the Congress conclude anything not managing to garner 80-90% support in the populace in general is a thing not ripe for federal action. Lefties love to prate about how government is just another name for things we do together, and I usually answer “Oh, you mean like corporation is another name for things we do together voluntarily?” I think this is a key issue: if the Congress is not specifically and directly charged with the duty in the Enumerated Powers, they shouldn’t do anything unless pretty much all of the people approve. This would have the additional, and great, benefit of making the national government less important in domestic matters and therefore less susceptible to corruption and cronyism, and help make the careers of politicians less worth protecting as they’d be less valuable. It would also obviate the need for “campaign finance reform,” but that’s serendipitous.
However, this is about Term Limits, and that’s where I want to go. The only good argument against Term Limits– at least among the People– is it restricts the People’s choice. I agree with that, but I think it’s a necessary evil. In the beltway the argument looms larger, as in Term Limits will cost me my job, my free TV coverage, my expense account that pays for lunches at the best restaurants in the country and my ability to call strangers on the phone and demand 5-figure checks for doing nothing at all except breathing and expecting them to deliver– or else. I have often blogged legislators should be given three hots and a cot in a barracks when they are in DC, and be not allowed to leave the facility while Congress is in session. Let them wear orange prison jumpsuits, and eat off stainless steel trays from a menu selection determined by a retired Army cook with no options– or not eat. Free TV coverage should be limited to 5 minutes a month, by law, and they have to wear their uniform. Ok, so that’s mostly a joke, albeit it would work to take them down a peg.
In all seriousness, however, we need some device to prevent our legislators from pursuing their own interests instead of ours in the beltway. Tom Clancy (rest the man), in one of his brilliant Jack Ryan novels, said the only real mistake the Founding Fathers made was believing the politicians who followed them would be as honorable as they were. There’s a lot of reality in that; self evidently they are not. Our national electoral system has evolved into a system designed to protect incumbency by any means available, and Devil take the People. What the Barbour/Cochran Unholy Alliance just did in Mississippi is a good example.
To this end, I favor Term Limits, for all their obvious flaws. There are any number of schemes, but I propose a maximum of 24 years in federal service, elected, employed or appointed; and no person may be elected or appointed to a position for any term exceeding their personal allowable total. I except federal judges, military personnel and and sworn peace officers wearing a badge and carrying a gun. I didn’t pick that number at random: it includes two terms in the House, two in the Senate and two in the White House. Such service wouldn’t have to be divided in that manner. I am further aware this would require a Constitutional amendment, but I think it’s worth the effort. Such an amendment would have to come from a Constitutional Convention as the Congress could never pass it– a good indication of what’s wrong with Congress. While we’re about it and writing amendments, we should clean up a few loose ends, repealing the Seventeenth and requiring both Houses of Congress to unseat a member found guilty of ethics violations and removing the seated legislator’s shield from prosecution while members. We should also require both Houses to unseat any members of the Ethics Committees in either House who voted against an ethics violation for unseating in the event the involved legislator is successfully prosecuted or pleads no contest to charges.
People will argue this will deprive the government of the experience it needs to function. I say look at the dysfunction provided by this same experience now in force. You call that functional?