HOW MANY OF you truly believe that Congress is going to be remade in the image of Newt Gingrich or some more or less anthropomorphic conservative Republican Everyman?
Those of you who raised your hands may be excused.
The rest of you, pay attention: you're going to need to know some of this stuff if you hope to survive into the coming millennium with any shred of optimism intact.
The deal is this: Conservative Republicans in Congress are not much different from liberal Democrats in Congress. There are distinctions to be made--chiefly quantified by the dollars either side would allocate to guns vs. butter--but there are more similarities than differences, never mind all the sturm und drang you've been hearing through the news media.
But the new GOP majority is going to pass a balanced budget amendment: holy shit.
Don't get all heifered-up. The House Democrats, before they got dis-elected into the minority, floated the same toy boat before the election, knowing their co-conspirators in the Senate would kill it. Either way, and regardless of which party claims authorship, a balanced budget amendment is political bullshit designed to portray its sponsors as fiscally responsible. In fact, what will happen under a balanced budget amendment is the sort of book-cooking that would land an individual taxpayer in hot water with the IRS and maybe even in jail. All Congress has to do is redefine the spending categories and call debts "loans" or taxes "income enhancements" and other syntactic tactics and the time-honored Congressional tradition of deficit spending will motor along unchecked.
But the GOP majority is going to hold itself accountable to every new law it passes, just as that law applies to thee and me. Hallelujah: Look for immediate legislation permitting ordinary citizens like me and thee to accept golf vacations to the Caribbean, should some lobbyist from R.J. Reynolds take a notion to offer. I wouldn't be packing my sticks just yet, though.
Pretty muchly the only honest remarks I've heard out of Gingrich and all those gloating Republicans in this time of alleged sea-change in Congress is that the Democratic majorities of the last four decades had beaucoup time to reform Congressional ways of doing business and passing legislation to shape the sort of compassionate nation it purported to desire, and they didn't get it done. As to the latter point, the last time the Democratic party really had the federal government by the nuts was when Lyndon Johnson was President, and then they got a hell of a lot accomplished in the way of social and economic justice and equality. Unfortunately, there also was that business in Southeast Asia, distracting LBJ and the Congress from their good deeds on the domestic front.
Since then we've had Democratic legislatures, true, but they were either opposed by Republican executive branches, or undone by ineffectual Democratic presidents, namely Carter and Clinton.
Still, the Dems could have done more and better, especially when it came to putting its own House (of Reps, that is) in order. They didn't because they didn't really want to, and the new Republican majority won't because they don't really want to. If Newt supports term limits now, it's only because he intends to run for president the first chance he gets.
And as for the rest of the boys--and a few girls--in Congress, well, every one of them is exposed to that old Potomac fever, that makes zombies of them all. The grandeur of the institution infects them, and eventually it seems more important just to hang out in D.C. and wait to collect a comfy pension than it does to fight and risk political wounds in the name of serving the nation.
And of course you've got lobbyists prowling the halls with suitcases full of cash, guaranteeing that incumbents are not bloody likely to get defeated by any brash young idealists with big ideas and little bankrolls.
And until that changes you can forget about any congressional reforms that are visible to the naked eye.
The buzz on the reform front just now is term limits, an idea whose very perversity is its greatest virtue to the professional pols who propound it. Term limits would guarantee that no individual, no matter how crooked and dumb, nor honest and brilliant, could serve in Congress beyond a term or two. Marvy. Meanwhile the entrenched bureaucracy would grow in power and stubbornness and lead a neophyte Congress around by the curlies.
And of course the influence of big money and powerful lobbyists would grow along with the bureaucracy, because they would not be subject to any limits of term or time, and they'd know how the institutions of government function and where the bodies are buried.
Under term limits you wouldn't have Strom Thurmond in the Senate for two centuries, you'd have the Strom Thurmond chair in the Senate--like a lectureship at Oral Roberts University--passed from one hand-picked candidate to the next, each funded by the tobacco industry and assorted other lobbies and PACs.
The simple, direct and right way to reform Congress--and government in general--is through public financing of elections. Give every bona fide candidate an equal campaign budget from the taxpayers whose best interests are served by a fair fight, an informational debate on the issues, and equal opportunity for all candidates, rich or poor. Congress would soon come to resemble the nation it represents, in gender, color, thought and deed.
Perhaps too radical for Congress, as it has grown to be, ever to seriously consider.
Well, if that's too scary, how about we choose our legislators the way we pick people to defend us from warlike foreigners or lawless citizens. How about we draft congressmen, or draw their names like jurors. Hell, if it's good enough for the common defense or capital trials, it ought to serve on Capitol Hill.
To keep draftee senators and representatives from being gulled by savvy bureaucrats and lobbyists, we would first take all lobbyists out and shoot them, and second, reduce the pay and perks of government employees to a mandatory 66 percent of what the same job would pay in the private sector. This would immediately serve to reduce the federal budget and to encourage self-imposed "term limits" for bureaucrats. Then we would structure the six-year term of congressional inductees thusly:
The first two years would be training, during which time the inductee would serve as a staff member for the previously drafted congressman. After two years on staff, doing the nuts-and-bolts work, the draftee would become the actual congressman for two years, after which the final deuce would be spent as senior staff advisor to the congressman, and trainer to the junior staff.
After which you get to go back to the world and resume your life. No retirement package to burden the taxpayers, only a G.I. Bill kind of deal on education, good for two reduced-fare rides through college, for yourself and anybody else you want to help.
It all makes too much sense to fly, doesn't it? Ah, but we can dream.
Yes, it appears Jeff has recovered from his gun-crazed lust of last week and has returned to the world of the rational. Call and congratulate him at 574-2203. Or fax him nasty secrets about Newt at 792-2096.
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