June 24th, 2012
By Thurman Leopold -- It may be time we discipline Congress. It's mostly wealthy people that run for Congress, though not always.
But if they aren't rich when they get there -- it doesn't seem like it takes them very long to get rich. And whether they get rich or not, $187,000 dollars per year for posturing on TV's not "chump change" -- and when you throw in "franking" privileges, expenses, money for staff, health insurance -- and all the money that is lavished on these guys -- legally and illegally -- it isn't that bad of a job, financially speaking. Yeah, you still have to show up sometimes -- and occasionally C-Span exposes you making an ass of yourself on TV -- or your party asks you to come out and lie to the American people in the art of trying to justify giving more tax breaks to rich people and corporations -- and your actual god-given talent and and your ideology as a Congress person is momentarily, glaringly on display, embarrassing and awkward for you -- but all and all its not a bad job compared to the ones most Americans have.
And the money wasting frustration for some of us -- is that a lot of them, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents (what ever that is) alike,
do nothing -- or nearly nothing when they get there. Many of them miss a lot of days the Congress is open --- through slothfulness -- sick days -- or because they are off on highly-sensitive "information-gathering" pleasure junkets. Or to prep themselves for re-election or a run for President -- and conventional wisdom informs them that this is a way to convince voters that they have the "foreign policy chops" to run for the big boys' office.
But many of them do nothing more when they get there than play "stopper", like they are hockey thugs, not Congress people.
It happens in both parties -- it's just that the Republicans are out of power in the Senate right now, so they are the frequent flyer abusers these days. They secretly put confirmation hearings for appointees of the President to cabinet posts or judgeships on "secret hold" -- and often vote against cloture on proposed bills of the opposing party such that the bill itself never even is allowed to be brought to the Senate floor to be debated -- much less ever even really be considered -- and voted on.
When the Democrats nominally controlled both Houses of Congress, starting in 2006, and intensifying in 2008 with the election of President
Obama, under the stewardship of Nancy Pelosi the House passed four hundred and some bills -- by simple majority vote -- like we had a democracy -- and sent them to the Senate.for consideration. In the Senate, however, only twenty or twenty-five (the exact number eludes me) went through the complete Senate legislative process and were passed into law. A few were vetoed by President Bush (the CHIP bill (Children's Health Insurance Program) comes to mind, though it was passed and signed into law by Obama), but most never got the required 60 votes for cloture. Cloture is a vote to close debate on a bill and bring it to the floor for an up or down vote, to pass it or kill it. So what that means is Senators got paid around $7,500 for each bill they debated and passed into law.
Personal note for you free market capitalism loving Republican and Democrats -- for profit businesses wouldn't put up with that little
productive work for the amount of money you're being paid for a week. And even worse yet, I think when the Republicans ran Congress from 1994 to 2006, the inestimable houses of government only worked a day and a half or two days in each week -- and some Congressionals even cut corners on that. Many were hardly ever there -- because the conventional wisdom in Washington was that actually showing up and governing was not only somewhat "passe", unnecessary, onerously time-consuming -- but over-all a fairly undesirable activity. Because of that many of them took an "ollie ollie ox-in-free", and simply failed to show up at all. Good gig, if you can get it.
And the Republicans from 2006 to present used more filibusters to stop anything from passing a cloture vote in the Senate than the number of times they used the statehouse crapper -- and there was a lot of toxic effluvia flowing in the halls of government in those days, I assure you.
So I think it's time for some "new rules". I think we need a "three strikes and you're out" rule. The rule would state that if any party used more than "three" filibusters per session of Congress to stop debate on bills and allow them to come to a vote -- then all members of the perpetrating party, like in the NFL, would be declared in violation of the "three strikes and you're out law, and be charged with malfeasance of office -- and with "conduct detrimental to the practice of Democracy in the America". The penalty for this would be that the guilty party would have their Congressional salaries, expenses, perks and benefits automatically suspended for the balance of that session of Congress, which lasts for two years. Now these people are already rich, and I'm guessing that most of them could survive for a while without their government pay-checks -- but most of the rich people I have known would fight just as ferociously to beat a poor person out of his last nickel for food (even if they personally already owned the biggest supermarket in the county) as they would to get billion dollar boon-doggle "bridges to nowhere -- built at jackpot style exorbitant profits by big contributor constituents.
God bless them -- one and all!