It’s the Christmas season and there’s a certain wish list I’ve had for years now – a couple of decades really – that I hope to see passed as law in this land someday. I don’t really expect to get any of them – especially since they would all require Constitutional Amendments – but I still hold out hope. Let me share it with you.
Congressional Term Limitations
The 22nd Amendment states, “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.” It was proposed and ratified at least partially in response to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election to a third and then a fourth term as President.
The idea behind it was that if any one person spent too much time in office, their power would grow too great. If he had lived, FDR would have served sixteen years as President of the United States. Meanwhile, according to this list, there have been over 100 Senators and Representatives who have served over thirty years in office. Robert Byrd of West Virginia served for over 57 years and John Dingell of Michigan served for over 59! How come it’s dangerous for a President to serve more than eight years but not for a Congressman?
A Presidential Line Item Veto
My reason for wishing for this can be summed up in one word. Riders. In case you want to skip the Wikipedia definition, a rider is a bad bill that gets tacked onto a good bill because the good bill has a better chance of passing.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that it’s an easy way to get an unpopular bill passed since it’s riding on the coattails of a popular bill. The other reason is to kill the popular bill by tacking poison pill riders onto it until it dies. If enough crap gets tacked on, the best bill in the world won’t pass.
Either way, a line item veto would clear all the dead wood off of those ‘good’ bills and stop a lot of bad legislation from becoming law. It wouldn’t stop the poison pill riders from stopping a bill but it would help clear up a lot of the cruft that gets attached to other bills.
A Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution
On the surface this sounds pretty straight-forward – don’t spend more money than you have. After all, I can’t so why should the Government be able to. Except that I can spend more money than I have. Yes, you and I indulge in deficit spending just like Uncle Sam. We do it whenever we buy a car or a house or buy something with a credit card.
I don’t know about you but I don’t have $20,000.00 or more just lying around so I can buy a car for cash. I have to get a car loan…or a mortgage if I want to buy a house. The thing is, there are rules on how much I can borrow. If my income doesn’t leave me enough room to make the car payments, the bank won’t give me the loan. And if we do get the loan, we have to pay it back on time with interest if we want to preserve our credit rating and be able to get more loans in the future.
Uncle Sam doesn’t have to meet those same criteria. He can pretty much say, “I want to borrow eleventy-seven gozillion dollars. I’m good for it. I’ll pay it back someday.” and he gets the money.
Yes, I’m simplifying this a LOT. And no, we couldn’t just say, “Starting tomorrow, we’re balancing the budget.” That’s just not workable. We would have to have a mandatory yearly reduction in deficit spending phased in gradually over 10 or 20 years until we get to the point where the budget is balanced. That would give us time to adjust. And it would keep our grandchildren from having to pay for our decisions…literally.
While we’re on the subject…
…there are a few other items I’d like to add to the list.
Congressional salaries (and raises) should be based off of an established, public economic indicator such as the Gross Domestic Product index or something similar. If the GDP goes up, Congress gets a raise. If the GDP goes down, Congress takes a pay cut.
A more extreme suggestion I’ve heard on this subject include putting every financial asset owned by a Congressman and Spouse into a blind trust keyed to the GDP. When they leave office, they’re cashed out and they make or lose money based on the economy. “Sorry about your vacation home and your kids college, Senator. Maybe you should have voted FOR that Jobs Bill.”
Another wrinkle is to make it illegal for any sitting Federal elected official to have any overseas financial assets or investments. This might make them a little more interested in the health and stability of the US economy.
How about we just roll all of these into the Term Limitations Amendment to keep it nice and simple?
Congressional Pensions. The rules for Congressional pensions are complicated but one rule is that if a Congressman is 62 years old and has served at least 5 years, they can receive a full pension. In 2002, the average pension payment ranged from $41,000 to $55,000. I wish I could get that kind of deal in my job.
The thing is, a Senate term is 6 years. That means that I can run for the Senate at age 57, get elected and serve out my term sitting on my butt. Then, when I get voted out of office I can still collect a full pension. Hmmm…I’m gonna have to think about this one. A Common Man for Senate, 2018. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Outlaw Super PACs. There are precious few restrictions on where Super PACs can get their money from or how they can spend it. There’s just too much room for private interests to play fast and loose with things here. Which means that the rich and powerful (both people and corporations) can assert undue influence over our political system.
Outlaw Paid Lobbyists. Please note that I specified “Paid Lobbyists”. If someone wants to volunteer their time to push a political agenda, they have every right to do so. In fact, the Bill of Rights makes that Right unassailable. But Paid Lobbyists are beholden to no one and nothing except whoever is paying them. That might be The Boys Scouts of America. Or it might be Big Business. Or it might be a foreign Government. Regardless, there is too much room for abuse. Limit it to volunteers and carefully controlled and regulated non-profits.
That’s it…at least for now. Let me know what you think. Did I miss anything? Do you agree? Let me know in the comments.