Thursday, March 25, 2010

Turning Anger Into Reform

It's not just that the Democrats won and the Republicans lost over the health insurance reform issue. What angers people is that the President and the Congressional leadership forced through a package that was highly unpopular with the electorate. In addition, it was only able to squeak through (unable to attract even a single Republican vote from anywhere in the country, notes Daniel Henninger in "Repeal the Democrats") only by bribing and threatening a significant number from their own party. So what has people angry is not only the vast expansion of government control over the details of people's lives, but, in two words, the condescension and the corruption.

There is much talk now about throwing the Democrats out of office in November, i.e., using the ballot box to remove specific people from power. So in the Wall Street Journal just today, Daniel Henninger writes "Repeal the Democrats," and Karl Rove gives us, "What the Republicans Should Do Now." Rove recommends offering reform, but he means alternative health care reform.

But in the wake of what these Euro-Social Democrats have done to a trusting public, deeper reform is needed. This is what I argue in my article today, "Turning Public Anger into Political Reform." It starts this way:

Political rage is a terrible thing to waste. And after forcing through a government takeover of the healthcare industry that most people passionately oppose, Congress seems to be a worthy target for public wrath. Of course, death threats and vandalism are not only counterproductive, they’re also uncivilized and evil. There is a more politic way, a more American way.

It was the securely rooted, career politicians—the old “liberal bulls” of Congress—who commanded this assault on the collective judgment of the American people. Consider how long the most prominent champions of Obamacare have been sitting in the House. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been in office for almost 23 years. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), 29 years. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and George Miller (D-Calif.), 35 years. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), 39 years. In a fantastically talented nation of 300 million people, why should the same 535 people govern us from the two houses of Congress decade after decade? Once you are elected to Congress, you have a greater chance of dying in office than of being voted out. The Gerrymander has produced a Leviathan.

I then reproduce something called the Congressional Reform Act of 2010, a suggestion that has been blowing around the internet for at least four months now.

1. Term limits: 12 years only, with one of the possible options below:
A. Two six-year Senate terms.
B. Six two-year House terms.
C. One six-year Senate term and three two-year House terms.

2. No tenure and no pension:
A member of Congress collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when he or she is out of office.

3. Members of Congress (past, present, and future) participate 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; members of Congress participate with the American people.

4. Members of Congress can purchase their own retirement plans just like all other Americans.

5. Members of Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of the Consumer Price Index or 3 percent.

6. Members of Congress lose their current healthcare system and participate in the same healthcare system as the American people.

7. Members of Congress must equally abide in all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present members of Congress are void effective one year after passage of the bill. The American people did not make contracts with congressmen, congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

Some of it is repetitive. Number 1 would require a constitutional amendment. I think 5 should be just a flat 3% annual raise. It would give them lots of incentive to bring down inflation when it's at 10% or more. It's likely an average inflation figure over the years. And I have no idea what #8 means.

The term limits are the heart of it, however. This is what I say in the column:

First, term limits (which, by the way, would require a constitutional amendment) are undemocratic, yes, but they’re republican like our Constitution. That is, like so many provisions in the Constitution, they are a correction to our democracy designed to bring out the people’s better judgment, and to guard them against manipulation by political gamers. Gerrymandering has, to a large extent, made a farce out of popular election. This is a method of redrawing the boundaries of a congressional district in a way that maximizes the likelihood that an incumbent or his or her party will remain in power. In essence, the people get to choose the politicians only after the politicians have first chosen the people who will choose them. Do you see a problem?

Gerrymandering goes back at least as far as Eldridge Gerry for whom the practice is named. Ideally, there should be a complete redistricting from coast to coast (plus the outlying bits), undertaken by an impartial body ignorant of which party controls what areas at this point, giving attention simply to more or less equal representation between districts  as well as natural, civic, and community boundaries. But, because from a republican standpoint I would base the need for term limits on the corruption of the electoral process that comes from Gerrymandering, for that reason I would not apply these limits to Senators since, as statewide representatives, they have no control over who elects them.

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