Saturday, July 30, 2011

28th Amendment Email a Distraction

Since the congressional debate about health care reform in 2009, the following proposed amendment to the Constitution has circulated around the internet, nearly always with the suggestion that if you send this on to twenty friends and they do likewise that very soon it will be in every citizen’s hands and that our Senators and Representatives’ elite status days will be numbered because a 28th amendment to the Constitution will be passed. If I’m not mistaken, the original proposal started making the rounds as a way to punish legislators who supported the health care reform that became legislation.

The email is being circulated now as the “Congressional Reform Act of 2011.”  I’ve received it several times in the past couple of weeks. Apart from the idea of it making us feel better in the midst of the current debt ceiling debacle, there are several reasons not to take it seriously. Here is the one I received today:

Congressional Reform Act of 2011 

1. Term Limits. 12 years only, one of the possible options below.
A. Two Six-year Senate terms
B. Six Two-year House terms
C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms

2. No Tenure / No Pension.
A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office. 

3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. 
All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. 

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do. 

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%. 

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. 
Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work. 
The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. 

I suspect that this email is circulating now out of the frustration all of us feel about Congress’ inaction on solving the debt ceiling crisis.  Believe me, I am also frustrated and fear for what may happen to the nation, but I believe that circulating this email is a not helpful way to deal with our frustrations, and in fact is a distraction from the crisis we face.

Why?  First, I want no part of punishing all of Congress because of the debt ceiling debacle. We have this crisis because Republicans have found a way to force spending cuts in government that they could not get passed in the House or Senate. The debt ceiling crisis is a way to impose not only their economic but also their social agenda. As I have written elsewhere, the Democrats have many “sins” for which they will have to answer, but the debt ceiling crisis is not one of them. They have been insisting that the pain of cuts be shared. That's what I want them to do.

Second, and you who know me will understand, this email fails the identity test. There is no name or organization attached to the email. If the author(s) don’t have enough confidence in what they wrote to say who they are, what they write doesn’t deserve my attention.  (I apply this rule to ALL circular emails.)

Third, not only is this simply and “idea piece” and not proposed legislation that we can seriously consider, it is flawed by numerous mistakes of fact pointed out in this Snopes link, and, in my mind, others of poor judgment, sufficient to overshadow the couple of good ideas in it. 

On the issue of term limits, we may be able to mandate limited terms for members of Congress, but not congressional staffs and lobbyists. I know the power of incumbency, but it seems to me that to have limited terms for our elected representatives simply makes them more dependent than they already are on those who don't have them.

I'm not sure I know what number eight means. Does it mean that retired legislators cannot serve as lobbyists. Does it mean they can't serve in the judicial or executive branches? 

I like the idea of Congress not being able to give themselves pay raises. Having them tied to increases in Social Security wouldn't be a bad idea.Please check out the Snopes link to see the inaccuracies in this email. Then, consider sending it back to the people who forwarded it to you.  

Now, it's back to waiting to see what happens in Washington.  

-  Milo

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