While I happily anticipate this fall’s 100% turnover in the U.S. House of Representatives and 33% turnover in the Senate, here is my advice for those candidates aspiring to get in there and clean up the mess:
Restore respect for Congress
Don’t promise it. Don’t proclaim that you’ve done it. Just do the right things, and (after a long time) respect will follow. Here are some things that Congress must generate the will to do if respect is ever to be achieved. If you just sit when you’re told to sit, speak only when spoken to, and vote the way you’re told to vote, you will dishonor yourself and merely join the gallery of rogues and fools that you think you’re replacing.
Start with the House and Senate rules
Dump the current House and Senate rules. All of them. Term limits have been needed mainly because the current rules invest far more power in some members than is justified by mere representation of a district. Absolute power in a committee chair diminishes fair representation. And try this: Give every member the option to introduce, and require a roll-call vote on, an issue (bill) of his own choosing (even of his own authorship) at least once during a legislative term.
Give no thought to image, impressions, and re-election
I’ve seen it in business but many times but more intensely in government: Those in power try to manage what everyone thinks of them by manipulating words and timing and audience. Well, those efforts are somewhat like General Eisenhower’s example of the difference between pushing a string and pulling it. What’s attached to the other end of a string is going to follow the pulled string but will be oblivious to the suggestion in a pushed string. Most of us can distinguish between authentic information and a line of bull. Don’t insult us with manure marketed as a dietary supplement. If you’re doing it right, we’ll know it.
Make it nearly impossible to attach an unrelated rider to a bill
Call them riders, earmarks, or pork – attaching them to legislation is probably the sleaziest, most insidious thing that Congress does. If it’s a bill to set up a national photo archive, then don’t attach riders to add a veterans’ hospital in a certain member’s district or change the rules of baseball.(1) If a rider doesn’t pertain to a bill, then bring it to a vote on its own merits. If riders are somehow the only way Congress can function at times, then at worst, let every member have only one chance to propose one in a two-year term.
Take a serious look at the fourth branch of government
Lawyers and accountants elected to Congress over the past 50 or so years have evidently created and nurtured the regulatory branch to further their own professions; there is no other rational explanation for its existence! This entire branch of government deserves to be challenged under the Constitution.(2) Let lawyers and accountants be the LAST people whose interests are considered when writing a bill – and don’t let them be the ones to write a bill either.
Name the beast
The Internal Revenue Code is just the best-known example, but we small people realize that nearly all federal regulation is equally absurd. Not complicated. Not merely arcane. It is insane. But it is the irresponsible tinkering of every act passed by Congress that has made it insane. Name it for what it is – America’s shame – and as a dramatic first step, demolish the Code.(3) Then begin a systematic hunt for comparable cancers throughout the remaining legislative refuse of the past half century. This means exposing other dens of cockroaches, such as the Department of Labor and a hundred more like it.
Take control of the beast
Perhaps only a few of us know the dirty little secret of all legislatures. While lobbyists for corporate interests and the shrill, indignant hucksters for so-called “citizens’ groups” are the annoying vermin making it hard to breathe in Congress, the big leaches are the “permanent” government agencies that present periodic demands for money (budgets) as if they are the first line of entitlement in the country. Every one of these agencies needs to learn that the elected representatives (who make us a republic) are in charge of them, not the other way around. Every bureau, department, and commission needs to experience some healthy fear for its very existence, and some (in my opinion, most) of them need to be abolished.
Don’t be my cradle-to-grave problem solver
Congress needs to stop trying to identify all my problems and especially needs to stop trying to solve problems I didn’t even know I had. I realize that Congress gets led around like a bull with a ring in its nose, but who put the ring there? Oh, wait, there’s no ring at all! It's just posturing! Quit enacting lawyers’ and accountants’ full-employment acts with cutesy titles like “An Act to Improve Music Appreciation in Public Education (IMAPE)” which serve only to funnel my money to undeserving recipients involved in causes that I abhor. Stop saving us from ourselves.
Get real about money
For 5000 years, likely longer, people worldwide have used something of intrinsic value as a medium of exchange. A couple of pen strokes by Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon do not erase this history, and can no more than temporarily disrupt the use of real substances as money. John Maynard Keynes promised us that we could live high on the hog and send the bill to our grandchildren, who would send it on to their grandchildren indefinitely, but the bill has come due in the first generation – we have stuck it to ourselves! It’s “experts” like Paul Krugman who now need to be ignored rather than consulted.
Understand what government is for
The Constitution was not written in secret language available only to a class of high priests.(4) Read it, act within its scope, resist the temptation to mollycoddle the able-bodies, and get out of the way. Understand, too, that every state legislature is likely to write its own parody of every act of Congress, especially those that purport to benefit us small people. Thus we have a federal OSHA and a state version, a federal FMLA and a state version, a federal EPA and a state counterpart, and on and on it goes. Who benefits? Attorneys. Who reels in confusion? Those who would start a small business or teach a kid to fish or contribute to a symphony orchestra.
Get out of the businesses that don’t properly belong under government
This includes getting out of health care, insurance, manufacturing automobiles, broadcasting, and on it goes. Support free enterprise by cheering it on, not by jeering it, punishing it, and preventing it with regulations. And get out of subsidizing every state and local undertaking with “matching funds” with strings attached – do we still use President Nixon’s term, “revenue sharing”? Most urgently, make capitalism legal again. De-regulate business. We’ve sent too much manufacturing to China. We CAN have robust industry in this country that is safe and non-polluting. We need to police our industries, but when they are tied up with proving in advance that they haven’t done anything wrong, as they now must do in order to satisfy bureaucratic zeal, we have essentially made it illegal to manufacture, distribute, or sell anything in this country without first paying a host of lawyers for protection.
Accept the responsibility by taking on the job, but you may not be re-elected
You personally didn’t create this mess. But don’t perpetuate it. Be honest in the campaign: What you have to do will require a reality check by each and every one of us. The vultures of our self-indulgence have come home to roost. You don’t want to preside over a catastrophic economic collapse. The next Congress needs to rein in the entitlements, make it legal to hire people and manufacture goods. Pare entitlement programs to benefit those who are truly in need.(5) The able-bodies need to fend for themselves, and once free enterprise is again unfettered enough to operate freely, the able-bodied will find jobs, because there will be jobs. If the lot of you who are sworn in in January 2011 cannot act in concert, swiftly, honestly, and decisively, you may not be sent back to Congress in two years, but your conscience will be your friend if you tried.
Repeal, repeal, repeal
It’s too late to repeal the bail-outs. I forfeited about half of my retirement fund so that the banks could be bailed out and so that young people with $800,000 mortgages could keep their McMansions. In the wisdom of the current Congress, they were more deserving of my savings than I. Maybe I should be happy that my sacrifice was no greater than that. But as soon as you get in there, get rid of the so-called health care reform, financial reform, jobs bill, cap-and-trade if it has gone through, and as much of that sort of garbage as you can rapidly undo.
I grew up in the Midwest and in New England in the 1950s and 1960s. I believed in America and I understood freedom – freedom to act as I wished as long as I acted responsibly, not freedom from want and wishing. I volunteered for the Army during the Vietnam war. I understood that I could be prosperous if I chose to be, but I didn’t expect to become prosperous with other people’s money; I planned to earn it myself. I planned and ran my life around that code. I have no respect for those who have stolen the dream. The only real power I have against those who have stolen it is my vote. If you are running for Congress in 2010, this message is what I expect my power – my vote – to accomplish.
(1) – And get Congress out of baseball. It makes me apoplectic to see Congressional hearings on baseball, (a completely private enterprise requiring no government intervention), when there are real problems, like border security, to be solved.
(2) – Congress needs to avoid passing “enabling legislation” and all that goes with it: agency rule-making, letting the Secretary of the Department misinterpret, misrepresent, and override the intent of Congress, and permitting strong-armed enforcement that properly belongs - if strong-armed enforcement belongs anywhere - in the legislative branch.
(3) – Those high priests exist and are exceedingly impressed with themselves, not just in regard to the Constitution but associated with every federal department and every act of Congress as well. As an HR director I once asked our corporate attorney a tax question. He replied the next day, breathless with excitement because he had reached someone of stellar influence within the IRS. His joy was sickening to behold.
(4) – The tax code… Please, please ditch it all. Set up a flat tax with NO deductions and no extra forms to fill out, or a consumption tax (which is also a flat tax), or both. A flat income tax would exempt some amount – say $25,000 – per citizen, (so a couple with an income under $50,000 would be exempt from withholding and filing a tax return). A consumption tax would affect those who may fall below the filing line and give some incentive not to spend indiscriminately or irresponsibly.
(5) – In my semi-retirement (which means I’m now working only 40 hours a week for under $25,000 a year) I am a receptionist for a medical practice group. I’ve been in the work force steadily for 45 years. I’m still working so that I can provide health insurance for my family, but when I see a 20-something patient whose diagnosis is “anxiety” and who can’t pay his $3 Medicaid co-pay because he is still paying off his fifth tattoo bill, I deeply resent carrying him. I later learned that he just had his motorcycle tripped out with extra chrome, but he has a state-subsidized cell phone, gets to buy convenience groceries with food stamps so he can use his cash for cigarettes, and… and on it goes.