Editor’s Note: The following is an op-ed by Robert Feldman
The actions, or lack thereof, by members of Congress during the last couple of weeks makes it abundantly clear that our political system is broken and cannot be repaired without dramatic and perhaps draconian changes. To do so will require the public to clearly demonstrate that we’ve had enough. Both our methods of enacting legislation as well as the legislators themselves require significant restructuring or the system will collapse. The simple truth is that Washington no longer represents us.
Our elected officials including the President and members of both Houses of Congress continue to provide disservice to this country. Collectively they have presided over the continuing erosion of public confidence and show no signs of being able to identify the fundamental problems much less the basic solutions to the political and fiscal issues that we face.
I remember studying what we used to call “Civics” back in grammar school many years ago. I remember learning how a representative democracy works. But it seems that what I learned no longer applies. Our elected officials have so re-structured the system so that the sole goal is re-election.
I also remember voting for my Senators and Congressman as well as the President. I voted for them by name and not be label or party designation. I can’t however, seem to remember when I voted for John Boehner to be Emperor of the House. (Since he ran unopposed for the Ohio 8th Congressional District, I am not sure if anyone voted for him.) I don’t remember anything in our Constitution that gives the Speaker of the House the absolute authority to prevent proposed legislation from ever coming out of committee and thus just dying in the black morass of Congress without the membership being able to do anything about it.
I still can’t remember the course I took in college, graduate school or law school that explained how self-made rules adopted by Congress itself can subvert the will of the People. How is it possible that we still do not have a Bill already introduced to ban assault weapons and multi-round ammunition clips? Is there any doubt that the bulk of the people want REASONABLE GUN CONTROL and want it NOW!!! Even the Supreme Court, after deciding they had the power to amend the Constitution themselves by deleting any reference to a “well regulated militia”, reluctantly agreed that the right to bear arms is not absolute but subject to reasonable restrictions. So, the people ask, “where’s the Bill?” Is it a new legislative requirement that in order to placate the 2 million NRA members that the wishes of over 300 million citizens be ignored? When will Congress act?
They call the House of Representatives the “People’s House”. What people? The only people they serve are the elected officials whose primary role is to be re-elected.
Why does my Congressperson or yours have to meet in a party caucus? I don’t want him/her voting as part of a bloc because some party leader wants him to vote a certain way. I have given my congressman my proxy to vote for me because I believe him to be capable of independent thought and to do what he believes is the right thing. I do not expect to agree with him on every issue, but I trust him. That’s why I voted for him.
But I didn’t vote for John Boehner or Eric Kantor or Nancy Pelosi for that matter. I didn’t give him the right to vote the party line. And how do our elected officials justify signing a “pledge” in advance, which is contrary to their constitutional oath. How can they agree in advance of hearing any arguments pro or con on a given issue to always vote in a certain way? Why don’t we just elect a group of pre-programmed computers with humanoid features. We can save taxpayer dollars by not having to pay for salaries, expenses, perks, fact-finding excursions, office staff, pensions, medical benefits and the like. Just press the “Enter” button and the machine will smoke, shoot sparks and record a “NO” vote.
It is shameful listening to these people congratulating themselves for pushing us to the brink of economic disaster and then reluctantly backing down and finding a more moderate approach conditioned by the promise that “we’ll be back in a couple of weeks”. They are not Gentlemen and Gentlewomen. They have become viscous venal fourth graders who have learned some curse words. They are quick to take credit for things they never did and always find themselves blameless when things go wrong. They have become experts in revisionist history. And it doesn’t make any difference as to which party is currently in power. There are demagogues and extremists on both sides.
There is no doubt that we have to curtail spending. We have a moral obligation to assist all members of society by providing education, social justice and assistance when needed provided that the assistance is coupled with genuine effort on the part of the needy. We do not have the obligation to guarantee success. Simple economic truths tell us that carrying the costs of 2 wars has to come from somewhere. It also tells us that a society that has more than 1 out of every 7 people on some form of local, county, state or federal payroll is in trouble. Common sense tells us that continuing to subsidize the oil industry with massive depletion allowances makes no sense nor do subsidies being paid to large conglomerate farm entities, We guarantee banks in time of need and their response is to curtail consumer lending to small businesses. It has to stop.
No more sound bites, no more pandering to special interest groups. No more gerrymandering voting districts so it’s virtually impossible to defeat an incumbent congressman.
The fiscal changes needed will place economic burdens on everyone, but these burdens cannot be equally shared. The inequality, at least for the short term, must fall more heavily on the haves and not the have nots. The details I leave to those far smarter than I and to those who believe they really can be part of the solution without the fear of a primary fight or the possible loss of an election. Not to worry. Given the quality of the current group (with some notable exceptions) anyone who is truly trying to come up with compromise solutions as opposed to merely pointing fingers, spouting meaningless stock phrases and auditioning to be a talking head on know-nothing television, has nothing to worry about.
So here are my recommendations. You may disagree with some of the details but hopefully not with the basic substance.
1. Term limits for all federal elected officials. 6 two year terms for congresspeople and 3 six year terms for the Senate.
2. No Senator or Congressperson can become a lobbyist without forfeiting his pension.
3. Changes in the procedural rules of the House and Senate so as to require all issues to come for a floor vote within 6 months of introduction.
4. Line item veto given to the President on all fiscal issues.
5. No amendments other than those directly related to the subject matter of any proposed piece of legislation.
6. A complete overhaul of the budget and tax code within 2 years. If Congress fails to complete this task, all members are dismissed and will be replaced with a new group.
7. Legislation to be adopted preventing the outsourcing of jobs, The only feasible method of addressing fiscal issues includes the creation of more jobs within this country. The Federal Government should invest resources into infrastructure improvements as well as alternate energy programs.
8. Public funding of elections with strict limits on advertising. An election cycle of no more than 90 days.
Are these solutions perfect? Far from it, but it’s a start. Are they simplistic-yes. But what’s wrong with simplicity. How can a Congress have passed a comprehensive Medical Insurance Act of more than 1,000 pages? Do we think that any elected official really read and understood it? What is clear is that fundamental change must occur.
Nor is the Executive Branch exempt from change. Our foreign policy must be dramatically overhauled. We cannot be the world’s unpaid policeman forever. We just can’t afford it. We went into Afghanistan for one reason and one reason only. Get Osama Bin Laden. Finally, 10 years later, mission accomplished. Why are we still there? How are real national interests being served? They’re not. Bring our troops home NOW not next year or the year thereafter. How much longer do we maintain a presence in Iraq?
On the domestic side our tax code is riddled with vestiges of failed social legislation. You don’t tinker with a tax code in order to fix social issues. You address the issues directly. There is no question as to continuing viability of the so called “entitlement” programs. They are going bankrupt and the promises made to me and my generation are being broken daily. And it is my children and grandchildren who will have to pay the price. That’s not the American way and it’s certainly not part of my family values.
I’m not smart enough to fix all the problems but I’m sure that we have enough clever caring people who are. But you have to start by tearing down and discarding the failed policies and procedures of yesterday. They say that insanity can be defined as repetitive actions with the expectancy of different results. I regret that I do not trust the Congress to do their part without severe pressure from you, the electorate. If we had the ability to have a Vote of Confidence they’d be out of work tomorrow. To those elected officials who really care, I apologize. But you’ve got to change the system. It just doesn’t work. The changes will require sacrifice and a basic restructuring of the legislative process. Let’s start today.
So here’s the challenge to everyone. If you agree with some or all of these sentiments pass them along. Feel free to add your own constructive thoughts. Send them to your friends, neighbors and most importantly to your elected officials. Let them know if they won’t change their methods we’ll change their jobs. Ask them if they’ll take the real pledge and agree to term limits without the need for a Constitutional Amendment. And if they won’t VOTE THEM OUT regardless of party affiliation.
I am not advocating any drastic form of social revolt but rather a common sense approach to real democracy. Set the standards for our elected officials and if they fail, replace them. No more allowing them to close their eyes, point their fingers and blame the other guy. As Walt Kelly reminded us in the Pogo comic strip, we are the other guy. Make them fulfill their obligations to serve the people and not themselves.
Enough is more than enough.