Objects in this Mirror Should be Closer than They Appear
As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people. – Federalist Paper #52
I shall here, perhaps, be reminded of a current observation, “that where annual elections end, tyranny begins. ” – Federalist Paper #53
It is clear from the writings of the Founding Fathers that the part of the federal government, which was to represent the people, should closely mirror the people for which they are governing. Yet today, this is clearly not the case in at least two respects. First, it was not fully envisioned by the founders that current election rules would be adopted whereby the incumbents have such a great advantage. The argument throughout Federalist Paper #53 was for a biannual period of election, because people of that century were calling for a shorter term of office for the House of Representatives. The argument in FP #53 was that a shorter term would not afford the elected representative enough time to get acquainted with his new position before being removed from office. Think about this what this is saying. The Founders truly envisioned that the scales in election would be more equally balanced between challenger and incumbent and that there would be more turnover. Otherwise, having shorter terms would not be an issue. Second, the Founders envisioned that the House of Representatives would have elected representatives who were of the same walk of life as the people electing them. If the elected were to become disassociated with the people, they would begin to rule over them and liberty would erode. This was the crux of Federalist Paper #52.
Today, we find neither of the envisioned principles to be true. Current election rules enable special interest groups to fill the coffers of the incumbents to the point where a challenger, unless he secures money from the main party, has little chance of toppling an incumbent. Even then, the main political party doles out money only to those who have “paid their dues” to the political process and think like the elitists in their party. This has created a situation whereby congressmen have been in office for decades and have little in common with the common people who have elected them. (Please read my posting on the 17th Amendment as to how this affected special interest.) After decades of having their “skids greased” by special interest groups, the legislators’ pockets have become full. Take a gander at data contained on the website OpenSecrets.org. They surveyed the net worth of members in both the House and the Senate through disclosures in 2004 and 2010. The figures are astounding. The average House member’s net worth in 2010 was 6.8 million dollars. But even more astonishing was the annual growth in net worth, while they were in office. The average annual growth was approximately $491,000 per year. That is far more than their annual pay increases. So, if you want to be set for life, get elected to Congress and toe the party line.
This is definitely not what our Founders envisioned. Thus, two amendments need to written to limit the term of congress to a relatively short period and the compensation to Congressmen. How long should term limits be? That is the issue of debate. Based on the arguments by the early founders, I believe anything over a decade is too long for a House member. My personal belief is that both the House and the Senate need to be limited to 3 terms. However if the 17th Amendment is repealed, the Senate should not be limited in terms because the political process within a State Legislator will limit their term, naturally. In addition, the Senators represent the states. If the state legislatures approve of their work, so be it.
Pay for members in power capped at a level no higher than 2 standard deviations of the national average, with modest travel and housing allowances for residing in Washington while serving in Congress. This will keep representation within reasonable limits to the majority of Americans. It is low enough that those elected are reminded that they are in a service role. It is high enough that Americans are not having to choose from the bottom of the barrel in whom they elect. The allowance should only be paid if their home of residence is outside reasonable commuting range. It should be modest such that representatives can be comfortable and secure in their Washington dwelling, but not luxurious; 1-2 bedroom condo with adequate security. A representative can live at a higher standard, if the amount above or beyond the allowance comes out of their own pocket.
At the Constitutional Convention, there will be an argument that the Constitution should not be as prescriptive as to set pay rates and allowances. I disagree and believe that it our Forefathers had foresight into the future. They would agree with the measure. After all, Congress submitted the text of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment to the States as part of the proposed Bill of Rights on September 25, 1789. This amendment provided that no Congress could vote itself a pay raise. So they knew the heart of man was naturally corrupt. The amendment was not ratified along with the first ten Amendments, which became effective on December 15, 1791. It took 200 years for the needed states to “have enough” of watching the fat cats. The Twenty-Seventh Amendment was ratified on May 7, 1992, by the vote of Michigan. Judging by the wealth of congress today, I’d say it is still not enough. The issue of pay and term limits must be a top priority on the convention.