THE BLOG
07/06/2011 03:12 pm ET | Updated Sep 05, 2011

Why Congress Should Get Paid on Commission

With the nation about to go into default, members of Congress were forced to cancel their July 4th recess and report to work (like the rest of America) on Tuesday. It's about time.

Through the first six months of the year, the House and Senate have been in session at the same time for a mere 60 days. That's an average of a whopping two weeks of vacation a month. Meanwhile, the average American (lucky enough to have a job) has put in twice as many work days -- 125 to be precise -- in the same span of time.

Lack of face time on C-SPAN would be one thing if Congress was the model of efficiency, moving at the speed of light to pass laws aimed at improving the state of our (increasingly frayed) union. You probably don't need me to tell you this, but it's failing on that score, too.

Clearly, Congress needs some motivation. So let's pay them on commission. If they don't produce, they don't get paid. If the current state of affairs is any indication, we'd save a lot of money.

According to the Library of Congress, the 112th Congress has passed 23 pieces of legislation that have become law this year. You may wish to sit down before reading the next series of sentences.

Of this total, five were for the purpose of naming federal buildings (three post offices and two courthouses). Three laws appointed members to the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. One extended the term of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission. In other words, no problem solving. No nation building or repair.

Eight laws extended old ones, including three related to airports. One, the "Comprehensive 1099 Taxpayer Protection and Repayment of Exchange Subsidy Overpayments Act of 2011" amended parts of the tax code most of us had no idea even existed. In other words, nothing new. No new solutions. No new approaches. Same old, same old.

Finally, five laws spent money. In other words, they finally got around to passing a federal budget six months after it was due.

If you performed like this in your job, would you still have one?

For all of their hard work -- missed deadlines, festering problems, two weeks of vacation a month --members of Congress earn $174,000 annually. They also vest in a generous pension plan after five years of service, even if they've been convicted of a felony. Legislative efforts to reform Congressional pensions have repeatedly failed. Surprise, surprise.

No doubt, members of Congress will tell you that when they're not in Washington, they are not on vacation. They're meeting with constituents back home or are otherwise engaged in "official business." I worked for a U.S. Senator and will admit that this is true. I will also concede that their work days in Washington are often frenetic, though this is mainly because of all of the time they spend elsewhere.

It is also true that virtually all of the "constituent" work in their districts is geared toward reelection. Whether it's fund raising or hobnobbing with voters at a town carnival or chatting with them at a diner.

I am all for paying our public servants handsome salaries. A few of them actually deserve it. I want the best and the brightest working on our nation's most difficult problems. Like the economy, energy, the economy, education, the economy, infrastructure, the economy, terrorism, the economy, health care and the economy.

But I also want our problems fixed and plans made for the future. You know, what you do in your own home -- repair the roof leak, weed the garden, set up a college fund for the kids.

Congress lacks seriousness of purpose. They are too busy tearing one another down. Maybe if they were compensated like so many Americans -- by commission -- they would get more done. They could receive a base salary, say, equivalent to the median American salary of around $50,000. Beyond that, they would be paid only for performance. No federal budget, no paycheck. National default? No paycheck (and no reelection).

Now that's change I can believe in.

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