Congress has finally left Washington for a five week vacation. This five week break comes on top of the week it took off in January, the week it took in February, the week it took off in March, the two weeks it took off in April, the week it took off in May and its recent week off for the Fourth of July.
It is clear to me the Congress will likely do more on vacation (going to the beach, traveling, and firing up the BBQ) than it did while it was in Washington. On a positive side note there is real potential for Congressional vacation spending to do more to help the economy than any action it took while it was in session.
Many will say it is the recent gridlock and political climate that has caused the Congressional failure to deal with the immigration crisis and its spending bills – it is still unclear when and if Congress will pass its spending bills before the federal fiscal year ends at the end of September. This may be true, but it does not explain the inability of Congress, during the last two decades, to pass much needed reforms to our nation’s entitlement programs; as some contend, this reform could help resolve the nation’s financial problems.
In short, it is easy to see how Congress has a 13 percent approval rating according to a Gallup/Fox News poll conducted from July 20 to July 22.
Yet, Members of Congress have left Washington with little fear of losing their jobs despite their low approval ratings.
Let’s look at the facts. According to information provided by opensecrets.org the re-election rate of incumbents in the House of Representatives during the last 50 years is 93 percent. In the Senate the re-election rate for incumbents for the last 50 years has been 82 percent.
As the Members of Congress are getting settled in their various vacation spots scattered across the globe I can imaging them smiling like Alfred E. Neuman from Mad Magazine and thinking, “What, me worry?”
Members of Congress can honestly ask why they should work harder. Not doing anything will almost automatically result in the voters sending them back year after year after year. We, the voters, have created a Soviet Union work mentality in the Congress. Why should they work harder when the result will be the same: almost certain re-election?
It is evident our habit of re-electing incumbents in such large numbers despite little or no Congressional action has rewarded Congressional inaction. So how do we change it?
Voting for a new member of Congress is a start, but I hold out little hope of changing voting habits – although I would be happy to be surprised.
I think the only way to get Congress to take action is to put in place penalties for inaction and inducements for action.
It could be that these penalties that will cause some Member of Congress to retire (remember the House Post Office scandal) or get to work. Either result would be effective.
So here is my proposal: Peg Congressional pay to Congressional performance and not allow Congress to exempt itself from the laws its passes.
When federal budgets are out of balance, Members of Congress should see their pay reduced by the same percentage that the budget is out of balance. In other words, a 15 percent deficit in the annual budget would result in a 15 percent pay reduction.
If there is a surplus, then Members of Congress should see a bonus for operating the government in a surplus. The bigger the surplus, then the bigger the bonus they would get.
In addition, Members of Congress should not be paid until a budget, which is passed in the spring, is adopted. If passage of a budget is late, then their paychecks should be withheld until the budget is adopted. The same should be true for spending bills, which are usually passed in the fall. If passage of a spending bill – not a temporary spending bill, but a final spending bill – is held up, then paychecks for Members of Congress should be withheld until the spending bills are passed.
It seems to me that if members of Congress were not paid if it could not pass a budget, or pass spending bills on time, then Members of Congress would likely be much more willing to not only seek a compromise, but also work to see that deficits are small and surpluses are large.
Also, Members of Congress that introduce legislation that is enacted into law that save taxpayer dollars should be rewarded with a good government bonus that is to be shared with the Member of Congress and his or her staff. Just think of the good ideas that could and would flow out of Congress if folks realized that creating good government would result in a bonus. As I write this I am thinking of all the duplicative and outdated government programs that are still in operation that could be shut down.
I am also thinking of the innovative ideas that could and would be discussed in the Congress to reform our entitlement programs and get the country back on sound financial footing.
Most importantly, Congress should not be exempt from ANY legislation it passes that becomes law. If an idea or legislation is good enough for the general population, then it is good enough for Congress. Any Member of Congress proposing or voting for legislation that becomes law that would exempt the Congress from being bound by any provision of law then that member of Congress should be penalized with a pay reduction or a loss of a month, or more, of paychecks.
I recognize this is not a panacea for spurring the Congress to take action, and there will likely be some questions and hiccups in the implementation, if adopted, but it does serve as a starting point for a discussion to improve government in general and Congress in particular.
I would be interested in hearing your ideas to getting the Congress to tackle the difficult issues of the day. Send them to me at email@example.com.
Before joining CNP (formerly WHD Government Affairs), Steve served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Senate Affairs. He was the key liaison between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Senate, assuring that the Senate was informed of the DOD’s plans, programs and goals.
The views in this blog post represent the viewpoints of individual team members, not Capstone National Partners as a whole.