Some suggestions for fixing Congress

After all the corruption, after all the lies, after all the shafts the American people have received, I think some major changes need to be made on Capitol Hill.  While I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly wouldn’t claim to, I do have some suggestions.

Outlaw lobbying
Congress works for we the people.  They need to listen to us in order to know how they should vote.  Our legislative representatives should not be in a position where those with the most money get to voice their opinions directly.  And before anyone starts harping about environmental, animal rights, and similar lobbyists who are trying to do good, there can be no exceptions.  This government is of, by, and for the people.  I see nothing in the Constitution that says our elected officials have any need or obligation to consider anything other than what their constituents want.  We put them there in the first place.  Businesses don’t vote, lobbying organizations don’t vote, and non-profits don’t vote, so why oh why should they get to control the agenda by swarming congressional offices and being the first and last voices our legislature hears before they vote?  There is no reason.  None at all.  So lobbying needs to be outlawed entirely and for everyone.  When we put someone in Congress, that person needs to listen to us and us only when it comes to how they should vote.

Fix the congressional raise problem
The first step is to rescind the automatic raise they put in place years ago.  That’s as offensive as it gets.  They work for us and I sure as hell don’t remember approving that bit of selfish legislation.  The next step is to put their raises on the ballot during federal elections.  Let the American public decide if their performance merits a raise.  If they work for us, let’s act like employers and take control of who gets a raise and when they get it.  As part of that, we should have some way to determine how much of a raise they get (whether in toto or individually).  With federal elections every two years, and with congressional members already making six-figure salaries, no one will go bankrupt in 24 months before their next raise if they’re frugal and responsible (and if they’re not, they don’t need to be in charge of this country’s budget anyway).  The pay our legislators get should not be up to them by any stretch of the imagination.  Instead, it should be based on performance like every other working American.  It should also be up to their employers to determine when and how much they should get if a raise is warranted.

Outlaw all single-source campaign contributions above $5,000
First, let me clarify this: I’m talking both direct and soft contributions.  If a fundraiser is being held and a restaurant wants to contribute food or a business wants to sponsor the event, their entire contribution cannot exceed $5,000.  Someone else must pay anything above that.  If that someone else is not the candidate in question, that contribution also must not exceed $5,000.  No one contributing under those circumstances would be able to make any other contribution exceeding the $5,000 cap.  This law would apply on a year-to-year basis.  That means a business could donate $5,000 this year and another $5,000 next year, but they could never donate more than $5,000 in any 12-month period.  This rule would not apply to other candidates or the political parties themselves.  This helps level the playing field in many ways, and it also significantly curtails the corporate lining of pockets that’s been taking place.  Businesses do not vote; individuals vote.  For that reason alone, money should be removed as a way to control our legislators.  Yes, they’re ours and they work for us.  We don’t need individuals and organizations with deep pockets pulling the strings of our employees by using the almighty dollar.  By specifying single-source contributions, this would also prohibit wholly owned subsidiary A and wholly owned subsidiary B from contributing while their mothership corporation also contributes.  The rule would be that all three organizations could contribute up to $5,000 as a whole but not individually.  Likewise, all contributions must be reported and made public at least once per year, and these contributions would be auditable by the GAO at any time without notice (not to mention the FBI if there was probable cause to believe someone had broken the law).  If we keep money from buying politicians at any level, they’re left having to rely on what funds they can accumulate while focusing more on telling us about the issues and less on shaking the greasy, money-changing hands of everyone and everything capable of slipping them some big bills during that handshake.

Outlaw all gifts save those via international diplomacy
Outside of items and events associated directly with campaigning, this would prohibit all people and organizations from giving anything to our elected officials.  There would be no more paid golfing trips, no free rides on private jets, no unpaid limousine service, no expensive jewelry, “sponsored” meals at restaurants where you and I couldn’t even afford a glass of water, and so on.  The ban would cover all organizations and individuals.  The only exception would be those gifts received as part of international diplomacy.  Just as we often give items to visiting dignitaries as a sign of respect, we must allow our government to receive the same from others.  It could be taken as an insult in many cultures to decline such items, but even then a cap on their value must be maintained (as currently exists, I believe).  This rule would also play a part in the $5,000 campaign contribution cap in that anything given to a legislator as part of the political process must fall within the financial guidelines.  For example, if a company wanted to donate a private jet for campaign purposes, its total use could not exceed $5,000 in any one year.  Those gifts would not be banned but instead controlled by the cap; all non-campaign related gifts would be covered by the ban and strictly prohibited.

All expenditures by officials must be reported in detail annually
This rule would apply to any costs associated with a candidate or in-office official.  For instance, someone in office would have to report all costs associated with their travel, lodging, campaigning, and so on, and those reports would have to include the source of all funds used.  Again, this rule would work in cooperation with the previous rules to ensure strict transparency in how our employees conduct our business.  There certainly could be a per diem of some kind (for instance, costs below $50 per day could be lumped together as Miscellany or something like that).  The point is to ensure we know where our money is being spent, what money is being spent on our employees by anyone other than us (since it’s our tax money that pays for them), and whether or not those funds are being used legitimately.  There may be need for exemptions and exceptions to this rule based on personal activities; that would need to be determined without creating holes through which they could drive an armored car full of ill-gotten gains.

Disallow all committee meetings held only with one political party
Do I have to explain this?  The congressional majority should not be allowed to ram bills down the throats of the minority parties.  If a committee is going to sponsor a bill, it needs to be discussed with all members of the committee having equal time on the floor.

Disallow congressional votes held outside of normal business hours (excepting emergencies)
Votes on bills must be held when the majority of members in both houses would normally be found on Capitol Hill.  Should there be an emergency, exceptions would be understood under those circumstances, but the partisan use of off-hours votes must be outlawed.

Ban completely all unrelated amendments on bills
It should be illegal to amend a Homeland Security expenditure bill with pork projects like an Alaskan bridge to nowhere that costs hundreds of millions of dollars.  It’s impossible for anyone to vote against the stupid amendment without looking like they’re voting against Homeland Security.  All pork projects should be put through on their own merits.  They should never be allowed to dangle on the ass of a larger bill that has nothing to do with that project.  Likewise, all bills should cover a single topic: budget/expenditures, specific law/changes to a specific law, and so on.  It’s impossible to vote clearly and for the American public to understand their employees’ intentions when a vote encompasses a hundred different items, 99 of which are pork and one of which is relevant.

Ban completely all last-minute amendments and changes to bills
If the members of Congress do not have time to fully read and comprehend a bill or amendment, and if the vote meeting does not offer the time necessary to fully discuss all aspects of a bill or amendment, they should be rejected in their entirety until such time is provided.  This is nothing more than ramming through pet projects and partisan changes at the last minute so no one can argue and no one has time to fully comprehend what’s being done.

Require that all bills and amendments be signed
If you’re not willing to put your name on it, it doesn’t deserve consideration.  Nothing should be considered, and it’s absolutely imperative that nothing be passed, unless all of Congress and the American people know precisely who submitted it, wrote it, edited it, sponsored it, and, in the case of amendments, added it to the bill.

Require congressional time cards
I think the American people deserve to see what effort and time they’re getting for the money they’re paying to their legislators.  Full accountings of all activities and time spent on the people’s business should be available at all times.

All pork should be put through individually
Rather than appending sneaky little amendments to much larger bills in order to get useless and horrifically expensive pork projects approved, all such projects should be put up for a vote on an individual basis.  There is no reason our employees shouldn’t be expected to sit and study, consider, and vote on each of those items if they intend to spend our money on them.  Besides, it’s not as though they don’t have enough time to work on that given how little they actually work right now.  If I’m paying an annual salary, I expect a year of work.  Budget bills are not the place for this, and massive appropriations bills are bloated and impossible to vote down when one bad project should be stopped but negating the bill would bring the government to a grinding halt.

I reiterate I don’t have all the answers.  I’m quite certain some would have strong opinions even on these.  The point of this little thought process was to discuss what I think would bring some semblance of order and clarity to what has become a chaotic free-for-all where the most money buys the most votes.  It’s also an attempt to bring Congress back under control of the American people, we the people, who are the rightful bosses in this democracy.  For too long we’ve been overrun by deep-pocketed organizations and individuals capable of drowning our voices with a hefty wad of cash.  No more, I say.  This ends here.  We need to take control of our government and put it back where it rightfully belongs.  We need to have the reins in our hands and stop letting loads of large bills control what happens in the legislature.  We need to put a foot on the back of our employees and let them know we’ll no longer tolerate the bullshit and the selfishness and the utter disregard for our citizens.  Poppets, this is our country and we need to be back in control of it.

[Update] One thing to note: I was rather arbitrary with dollar amounts.  There may be ample reason for the campaign contribution cap to be set at $10,000, and again for the per diem expense reporting floor to be set at $200.  These are all points for consideration and not absolutes.

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