Citizen Legislators

I had just arrived at work today when a colleague asked me, “Aren’t you sick of politics?” I made a polite response, something about being tired of the meaningless wrangling, lying, and general bad manners, but no, I’m not tired of the process of trying to identify – and then elect – folks who have the welfare of the people – all the people – at heart.

I’m encouraged that Americans do seem to be paying attention to the current, unsettled state of the relationship between citizens and our government. And it is very unsettled. We have the ironclad partisanship of Obama and Romney supporters, with the full-throated baying about 47%, birth records, religion, race, the economy, Libya … and whatever the 24/7 news cycle has spun up for us to fear today.

More damaging even than that, I think, is the well-deserved opinion we hold about the gridlocked Congress, those representatives who are more directly responsible for the state of our nation and its individual States than the President. The Gallup organization reported at the end of last year that a new record-low 11% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, the lowest single rating in Gallup’s history of asking this question since 1974.

So what could possibly be encouraging about that dismal statistic? Well, in the past three days, I have received a number of emails from friends about something called the Congressional Reform Act of 2012 (actually not a legislative Act but rather a proposal to amend the Constitution). The emails begin with a quote from a CNBC interview with Warren Buffett: “I could end the deficit in five minutes. You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election.”

Based on the Gallup numbers and my personal email traffic, it sounds as if we may be ready to change something fundamental about the way we allow our Senators and Congressmen/women to serve us.

Here is the emailed text of the Congressional Reform Act of 2012.

  1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they’re out of office. No “entitlements.”
  2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.
  3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.
  4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
  5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
  6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
  7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 12/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women.

The email also says:

“The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only three months and eight days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971 – before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven took one year or less to become the law of the land – all because of public pressure.

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message. Don’t you think it’s time?”

Does the Congressional Reform Act of 2012 (or the 28th Amendment) look like the solution? Not exactly, but it’s a good-enough place to start talking about fixing our broken legislative process.

By the way, Amendments either originate in the States (in an Article V Convention) or by a vote by two-thirds of each house of Congress. Congress will only call for an amendment-proposing convention, “on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States.” That means 34 State legislatures would have to submit applications. Once an Article V Convention has proposed an amendment, then the amendment has to be ratified by three-fourths of the States (i.e., 38 States) in order to become part of the Constitution.

And if effectively having to get Congress’ permission to propose an amendment didn’t make it even more challenging to rein in Congressional perks, Congress also has the power to choose between two methods of ratification: ratification by the State legislatures, or ratification by State conventions called for that purpose.

Finally, all 27 amendments to the Constitution have happened in a procedural sense by going through Congress and not through proposal by State legislatures.

So … I’m going to forward the email, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for a national body of citizen legislators.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s