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7/20/19

Terms of Enrichment

Terms of Enrichment


         It would seem that Congress, almost without anyone noticing, has set themselves up over the last 60 years or so to a point where “politician” has become an acceptable, if not necessarily respected, profession. Up until the 1950’s, serving as a member of Congress was still considered, barring the occasional national emergency or world war, part time employment, and elected citizens not only kept their primary jobs they did not intend to make politics a career.  The original intent (you can look it up) was that serving was an obligation to be endured and not a career choice. “What’s wrong with politics as a career?” you might ask. “Shouldn’t we be glad that someone wants the responsibility of helping run our country effectively?” Why, yes, I answer quickly. We should indeed if that were the case. What we see instead is that Congress lives in its own world divorced completely from the realities of the citizens of our country, is neither effective nor responsible and as a group lacking the moral fiber and self discipline to make difficult decisions.
     I believe there are several reasons for this. First and foremost, Washington DC may be IN America but its inhabitants do not represent the beliefs or feelings of most Americans.  Perhaps there is an invisible wall defined by the Beltway that excludes common sense, patriotism and fiscal responsibility from those within. Insulation over an extended period of time from the constituents they are supposed to represent leaves many Congressmen hopelessly out of touch and subject to the opinions, beliefs and policies of party leaders and lobbyists. While their original idea may have been to represent their own geographical area of the country, the myopic effect of constantly being the center of attention surrounded by lobbyists, news media and fellow politicians eventually leads them away from being a representative and into the misguided belief that they are leaders. They are not. They are representatives and nothing more. The longer lawmakers spend in DC the more likely they are to become part of the problem and a member of what has become a permanent governing political class exempt from many of the laws they pass for the citizens they represent. If experience is such a positive thing then why do so many issues go unsolved? Perhaps because their primary purpose is in reelection and the accumulation of power and not service to their state and country. .
     It would seem the longer one serves as a political elite the less interested and less likely they are to attempt to solve any issue for fear of losing votes, for fear of having no issues to campaign upon and especially for fear that the public in general might discover how useless most of them really are. If news reports over the last decade or so are to be believed, the primary purpose of a politician seems to be pointing out the verbal faux pas of those in the opposing party. My belief is that should your primary occupation be playing “gotcha” with politicians from the other party, that behavior reflects far more negatively on you than on those you are discussing. You certainly don’t have to be elected to behave like an eighth grader.
     There are several studies that indicate that the longer Congress is in session the less effective they become and the longer and more complex laws become.  The complexity of a law is inversely proportional to its effective enforcement, and, even worse, complexity practically guarantees increased costs. They do seem to be rather efficient at spending other peoples’ money, and the profligacy of pork in the budgetary process provides plenty of evidence of waste and financial mismanagement. What is Congressional pork, after all, except monetary bribes for votes from the people back home? If reelection were not a primary concern perhaps it would be easier to cut Congressional spending.
     Congress has also, quietly and with little or no fanfare, set up their own retirement system independent of Social Security, exempted themselves from health care choices that were mandated for every other citizen, and extended themselves the benefits of larger staffs, transportation, travel and postal services all at public expense.  How many of us still depend upon the postal service as our primary means of communication and commerce? Not many, yet Congress spends about $17 million dollars per year on this privilege for their own use. First class travel expenses also run about $15 million per year. Junkets is an apt description of these vacations posing as “fact finding missions” to other countries.
     Add to all of this the fact that Congress is spending our country into oblivion and you can begin to understand at least part of their lack of popularity (less than 20% approval for the last 10 years). The budgetary process in Washington seems to most citizens to be nonexistent, and based solely on arguments between the two parties on whether or not to continue raising the current budgetary limits rather than reigning in spending to manageable levels consistent with the amount of money available to spend. It’s apparently difficult for people that see themselves as the country’s leaders to say “we can’t afford that because we don’t have the money” or, even more germane, “that function is not one the Federal government should be undertaking.”  When they begin discussing, on rare occasions, “how do we pay for this” then the answer almost invariably becomes “why, more taxes of course.” Budgets should not work that way. Our budgets at home don’t. The answer is not in raising taxes or printing more money but in cutting programs and expenditures that we cannot afford, no longer need or should not have been a Federal program to begin with. Did you know $1.7 billion of our taxes pay for maintenance and upkeep for over 770,000 unused buildings nationwide each year? Can anyone tell me why we still need to fund the Rural Electric Association? How about $6.34 million for artwork at a California Veteran’s Affairs Center? A Federal Department of Education? The Federal Register, available online, is printed every day and given to members of Congress at a cost of over $1 million each year. Responsible representatives should know that sometimes, for the good of the family or the good of the country, you have to say NO.
     Which brings me to another problem.  Congress’ primary purposes seem to be centered on reelection rather than what’s good for the country. The issue of reelection is presented to constituents as the importance of keeping “experience” and “leadership” when in fact it is neither. Loyalty of those whose primary purpose is reelection will quickly go to those that provide the money necessary for the process rather than those that cast the actual votes, and party loyalty becomes far more important than loyalty to “the people” primarily because of the sums involved.
     It would seem to me that Congress has in fact become a financially lucrative (if rather shady) career that it was never intended to be, and that politicians are far too afraid of saying no and taking the chance of offending voters or contributors than in actually doing what they think best for the country without consideration of who might be offended. The lack of moral fiber, character and leadership are astounding.
     I have several suggestions. 
First - there is no reason politicians cannot telecommute and work from home at least part of the time.  Mama always said that if you find yourself in a toxic environment the first thing you should do is remove yourself from it. Don’t tell me that technology can’t make that happen. If I can press a button on my computer and simultaneously order and pay for anything from anywhere and have it arrive at my home three days later I believe technology has progressed to the point where politicians can study, communicate and vote from afar. This will allow more time among the people they are supposed to represent and less time within the Washington Beltway. 
Second - every Senator and Representative should be a part of Social Security and whatever health care they approve for everyone else. Separate health care and separate pension systems, both funded by tax money, are lipstick on a pig.  Congress should never be exempt from laws they pass for every other citizen. 
Third - if we cannot put enough public pressure on Congress to impose the same term limits on themselves they did for the office of President there must be a grassroots movement to impose those limits by never voting for the same candidate more than twice. It:s that simple and does not need Congressional action. When a politician has served two terms, discover for yourself how easy it is to just say no.
Fourth - serving in Congress should return to being a part time position.  The end of the “professional politician” would immediately make representatives more accountable to the people they serve. Good businessmen are almost never found in politics. If they were there they would never allow some of the idiocy we see in Washington DC to occur.  Imagine your business - whatever it is - sending a significant part of its profits to a competing business in another country as “foreign aid.”. Imagine allowing your business under any circumstances to lose track of 6 billion dollars or so because of “improper control of contracting procedures” and nobody is held accountable.  A lot of the financial insanity would end quickly if accountability were inherent and not avoided.
Fifth - Each member of Congress should be given a budget for staff, travel, mailing and all expenses. Anything they spend over that amount will be personally funded.
     The purpose of our elected representatives has become confused and misguided to the point that self aggrandizement, personal enrichment and the accumulation of power have replaced representation of the people that elected them.  Harry Truman had it right. “Show me a man that gets rich by being a politician, and I'll show you a crook.” I don’t care that they make $174K per year, but I do care that most of them seem to leave office far wealthier than when they were first elected. Perhaps being part time would let the honest ones serve more effectively if for no other reason than by limiting the time the crooks have in office. Wouldn’t it be nice for adults to be serving our country again, and to have statesmen rather than politicians? You can make that happen. All you have to do is make “career” and “politician” mutually exclusive terms.

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