Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Constitution Needs a New Amendment

By Alan Caruba

The last Amendment to the Constitution took effect in 1992. The 27th said, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

I assume this means they cannot vote themselves a raise until a new group of Representatives has been seated (the House being the only chamber that can initiate financial bills.)

Big whoopee!

What is really needed is a 28th Amendment and a text has been suggested.

“Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.”

Amidst the debate over healthcare “reform” the one thing that Congress did not and does not want the public to know is that they exempted themselves from both the House and Senate versions.

Little wonder Congress regards itself as a special and elite class of citizens when you consider that lawmakers have a choice of ten healthcare plans. This is in sharp contrast to the 85% of private companies offering health coverage with one plan, take it or leave it. Anywhere from three-quarters to one-third of the cost of the plans available to those in Congress is subsidized by taxpayers.

In addition, lawmakers are entitled to special treatment at Washington’s federal medical facilities and, for a few hundred a month, access to their own pharmacy, as well as doctors, nurses and medical technicians in an office located between the House and Senate chambers.

Federal health coverage far surpasses the plans available in the private sector and, of course, the millions who are under-insured and at financial risk in the event of a major health problem. For federal employees there is no such thing as a pre-existing condition that keeps many from securing insurance.

In 2000, the National Taxpayers Union published a report on “Congressional Perks: How the Trappings of Office Trap Taxpayers.” It is well worth reading.

Briefly, Senators and Representatives receive “comfortable” salaries and they receive pension benefits that are “two to three times more generous than those offered in the private sector” for similarly salaried executives. Taxpayers “directly cover at least 80 percent of this costly plan.” The pensions, moreover, are inflation-protected, a feature that fewer than 1 in 10 private plans offer.

Most people are aware of the “junkets” that Senators and Representatives take for “fact finding” purposes. The cost of flying Speaker Pelosi and her fellow lawmakers to Copenhagen to attend the recent UN Climate Change Conference was set at more than one million dollars. A bit of research would not doubt reveal that millions of taxpayer dollars are spent to provide lawmakers with the equivalent of paid vacations.

Nor do lawmakers pick up the cost of postage to reply to their constituents as they have long enjoyed “franking” privileges to the tune of millions from the public coffer. They send out newsletters to inform constituents of all the money they have diverted to their district or state. It is regarded by many as an unfair electioneering tool. The public also pays for their office staffs.

There is a raft of exemptions and immunities from tax, pension, and other laws that burden private citizens. I would be remiss if I did not also point out that unionized federal and state workers enjoy 34% higher wages and 70% more benefits than private sector counterparts.

You can be sure that the Founding Fathers feared the growth of government and its blandishments as much as any other abuse of power.

In plain terms, it is an abuse of office and a raid on public funding. It is fundamentally un-American.

It is time for a new Amendment, though it is the least likely to ever be passed by the kindergartners presently running the nation into historical debt and possible collapse.


TJP said...

Alan, here's another much needed amendment to the Constitution.

"No person shall serve in the House of Representatives for more than four two-year terms.

No person shall serve in the Senate for more than two six-year terms.

If any person is appointed to fill a vacancy in either the House or the Senate, and that time in office exceeds more than half a term, then that will count as a full term served.

If passed, this amendment will apply to all currently serving members of Congress."

There's a fine line between a public servant and a parasite. Until we make each position in Congress less of a power trip and a money grab, it'll only continue to attract more of the corrupt and incompetent.

If the Republican party wants to renew itself and save the country, this is a good place to start. This among other issues, like reforming the tax system, needs to be promoted to the hilt to the American people and acted upon until such measures are passed. And what better political atmosphere exists to do so than what we have now?

Keep writing, Alan. I've forwarded your essays to many people. Your prolific pen amazes me!

Alan Caruba said...

Thank you, TJP. Sometimes even I am amazed that I turn out a commentary a day. The secret is that there is so much information available that a writer has far swifter access to reliable data than ever before.

Carolyn said...

Hi Mr. Caruba- as much as I totally agree with your amendment, TJP kind of stole my thunder, but I'd like to ad an amendment to his amendment- NO House or Senate shall be a family business. Any Congressperson or Senator who passes away while serving, shall not have their seat passed along to a spouse, child or any other family member.
I cheered at TJP's comment about parasites and public servants. My sentiments exactly!
God Bless!

Ol James said...

I kinda think George Washington stole all yallz thunder!! When he declined to be President the 3rd time. I like to think he was hinting at all those Congressmen also.
If you think about it a bit, are they really keeping us informed and finding out what the needs of the citizens are?? Newsletters, news conferences, now and then a public meeting. They say they are listening, but, are they hearing what is being said??
Seems like all they are hearing is the gobblity-gook in and around DC.
Thanks, Mr. Alan!! I needed to git my pulse rate up. To cold to garden, bout all the exercise I get is from lifting cakes and bread from the oven. Nuttin better that Amish Banana Nut, Sweet Corn Bread, Pineapple up-side-down Cake, a pot of soup/stew, fresh onions, pepper sauce, bowl of pintos...I gotta quit, I may raid the frig later..
Yall have a Gud-un now, Ol James.

Unclean Vessel said...

Although I am a devout conservative, my experience as a government official and now as a bank executive have changed my perspective on some of these issues. Have I become sympathetic to people being unjustly enriched at taxpayer expense? No, my opinion is evolving because I am becoming more familiar with the alternatives to some of these programs that are being held up as problems. Here's where my thinking is today:

In each of these cases of congressional "largess" the main issue is about the "abuse" of benefits that serve an otherwise important function. And even by that definition, deciding what is "abuse" is not as simple as we might hope.

High salaries, travel benefits, great pensions, franking priviledges, research trips, etc. can all be abused to enrich and fortify a congressman's position.

But these same "priveledges" also allow our government bodies to attract and retain the best and the brightest, keep our congressmen in close contact with the people they serve and get them the best information possible.

Taking these "priveledges" away also has a significant downside that I';m not hearing discussed. I live in a state that pays our state legislators very little and makes them personally pay many expenses of office. It results in people only running for legislator who are independently wealthy (able to live without an income) OR those who are indirectly sponsored by interests (industries) that find other ways to compensate the representatives. While seeming to "fight graft" this method actually greatly increases the chances of improper influence and abuse.

The next argument will be to point out significant instances of abuse and follow with the age old "somebody needs to pass a law to stop that!" Yes, sometimes that is true. But generally we throw the baby out with the bathwater when we create these tangled nightmares of rules as we try to legislate common sense.

[An example: "reform" has now created a situation where candidates for even some local offices need to hire professionals to maintain compliance with the morass of election rules and contribution limits and tracking. For example now President Obamas initial successes in running for office weren't in campaigning, but in mastering campaign laws. He found signature violations that allowed him to have his strongest opponents thrown off the ballot.]

Maybe a better answer is to assure that watchdogs publicize the abuses as they are apparent and allow voters to decide. Force those who appear to be off-base to defend their behavior and, again, allow the voters to choose. This way we will create and maintain representatives who actually reflect the desires and mores of the people they represent rather than the lmits of a complex mass of regulations designed to address past abuses.

The only way this system will fail is if the people are corrupt and so, willfully, elect corrupt representatives. (You can make the case that people do this today as they re-elect "abusive" congressmen because they don't want to lose the local benefits of that person's seniority in congress.)

These aren't new problems. I find these problems understood and analyzed in the founders documents. The federalist papers directly address the issue of representatives and candidates advocating poor answers from noble motives versus those advocating good answers from corrupt motives. Our system will work best if we strive to use today's amazing communication technology to fully inform voters, let everyone make their case, and then allow the voters to decide.

Ultimately George Washington was right when he posited that our form of gverment will only work when it is driven by a moral population. And conversely, we cannot overcome a moral failure in our population with more rules and regulation. That path will only increasingly cripple our nation.

Thank you for allowing me to throw in my two cents.

Unclean Vessel said...

BTW, sorry for all of the typos, spelling and punctuation errors in that prior comment. I now see that I'm a functional illiterate without my grammar and spell-checking software.

Alan Caruba said...

Not to worry, Vessel. I thought you contributed some very good ideas and information to the discussion.