Some Americans, fueled perhaps by frustration and angered by changes in American society and government they find difficulty dealing with, have latched onto a hatred of Congress as their personal lifeboat in turbulent seas. If only they could... fix Congress? No, not exactly. Do away with Congress? Eliminate it altogether? No, not that either. If only they could somehow change Congress to make it look like they wish it was. Yes, that's it. They don't want just new people in Congress. They want to change Congress to abolish abuses they see there. They want to make Congress over in their image. Too bad their vision is badly impaired.
Among the latest such attempts is one of those floating, roaming emails, the kind that gains a life of its own moving across the cyber-nation asking recipients to send it out to 20 new people. Why, if only everyone would send it to 20 others, in no time at all everyone in America would read it and support it. So, what is it? Its something called "The Congressional Reform Act of 2010." It might be in your Inbox. Take a look. This so-called "Act" proposes 8 "reforms" not one of which makes any sense at all. Whoever concocted it knows less about our Congress and our Constitution than... Christine O'Donnell. These 8 proposals are:
1. Term limits. But, of course, we already have the most effective term limits known to free men and women. We have elections every 2 years. Nobody "owns" a seat in Congress. If YOU keep voting for the same Congressperson or Senator, YOU cannot complain about "term limits." Since there are 435 Congressional districts and we all only live and vote in 1 of them, aren't those advocating term limits really saying they want to determine who YOU can and can't elect to Congress? Who's stopping them from voting against their incumbent? Leave mine alone, thank you.
2. End Congressional pensions. The "reformers" appear to believe that Congressional pensions are both free and instantly available to anyone who's ever served. They just don't know that members contribute their own money to the pension plan (just as so many other working Americans do) and Congressional pensions are only available at age 50, after 20 years of service, or at any age after 25 years in office. A member must win at least 3 different elections to get any pension at all. See Term Limits above if you don't want Congresspersons getting pensions.
3. Make Congress pay into Social Security. Well, what is there to say about people who are that ignorant? 26 years. A generation! That's how long it's been, since 1984, that members of Congress have been paying their Social Security tax just like the rest of us. Members of Congress already pay 7.5% of their salary (6.2% for Social Security and 1.3% for retirement).
4. Make Congress pay for their retirement plan. Please see above for the answer.
5. Make Congress pay for their healthcare benefits. Well, they already do. Where did the idea come from that members of Congress get free medical care? Some of the demands from these "reformers" are like people insisting the Sun must rise in the East and set in the West. Hard to argue with, but not the most sensible, timely or necessary demand, is it?
6. Stop Congress from raising its own pay. I know we still have a couple of points to go in this "Reform Act" but the general frame of reference is pretty clear by now. These "reformers" have very little information to work with. They're factually deprived. Congress has NEVER been able to raise its own pay. All pay increases voted by Congress must be for future Congresses, not for those currently serving. No Congress has ever raised its own pay. How can it be that these angry "reformers" these Constitutional devotees don't know this?
7. Congress should void all contracts made with former members. In a list of strange demands, this one takes the proverbial cake. These "reformers" fancy themselves as defenders of the Constitution. But they apparently have never read Article I Section 10, which forbids the interference in any contract. That includes a contract with a former Congressperson or any contract at all with anyone. Contracts are constitutionally protected. Who knew?
8. Finally, the anger at Congress boils over when its revealed that Congress is sometimes exempt from its own laws. These "reformers" want to end that by making Congress subject to every law they enact. It doesn't take very long to find out that the only laws Congress is exempt from are those that pose a constitutional dilemma if Congress were subject to the terms of those laws. We do have (remember?) something called separation of powers. The Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary are not just 3 different branches of government; they are co-equal branches of the same government.
Once finished with the 8 rants or demands - and regardless of the ignorance that inspired them - the writers of this "Congressional Reform Act of 2010" feel compelled to add a historical perspective. The Founding Fathers, they tell us, never envisioned a Congress made up of continually re-elected members. These Founding Fathers saw the US federal government as made up of part-time, term-limited citizens taking time away from their normal lives to serve the public good. Sounds nice, but totally mistaken. Seems like none of those who wrote this widely distributed email "reform act" ever read The Federalist Papers, especially Madison's Federalist #53 in which he wrote:
"a few of the members of Congress will possess superior talents; will by frequent re-elections, become members of long standing; will be thoroughly masters of the public business, and perhaps not unwilling to avail themselves of those advantages. The greater the proportion of new members of Congress, and the less the information of the bulk of the members, the more apt they be to fall into the snares that may be laid before them."
So, the "reformers" - the so-called Tea Party type people - who profess such admiration for the Constitution and our Founding Fathers actually know little or nothing about either. Everything they want they already have (and don't know it!) or don't understand why its prohibited. And their sense of history is a figment of their own term-limited imagination.
Those who hate government naturally hate Congress. If they don't like the people who currently serve there they have an opportunity to change that simply by not re-electing anyone. A word of warning: don't bet your savings on the number of incumbents who will be thrown out of office... not in this election or any other in your lifetime.