After the scoffing died down from some of us so-called liberals, we realized that his proposal has merit, and is not without historical precedent. After the Revolutionary War concluded, we formed a new government and adopted a Constitution which set forth the duties and terms of our federally elected officials. According to Article One, section 4, Congress is only required to assemble “at least once every year”, thus establishing the part-time nature of our citizen legislature.
The truth is that senators and congressmen couldn’t afford to hang around DC full time back then because they were only paid a few dollars a day. Members did receive pay raises in 1815, 1855 and 1935, raising their salaries to $1,500, $3,000 and $10,000 respectively, but they still maintained full-time jobs back home. Even as late as the 1960s only a handful of the most powerful Congressmen had full-time committee responsibilities. That changed during the Watergate scandal when Congress hunkered down to keep an eye on the Executive Branch.
Congressional staffs and budgets grew exponentially from there, so much so, that by 1993 Sen. Bob Dole suggested a return to a more traditional legislative calendar. Said Dole, “If we could spend six months here and six months at home, the country might be better off.” The conservative Heritage Foundation agreed with Dole, issuing a report that said, “Congress has grown too large and too expensive to maintain.” But perhaps right-wing columnist Cal Thomas made the most eloquent argument for streamlining DC. Speaking of Congress, Thomas wrote on his website, “Returning home shouldn’t mean flying home for long weekends and then coming back to Washington. It should mean returning to a real job where the member can’t raise his own pay, receive top medical care at reduced or no cost, print and spend other people’s money, or count on others to pay into his retirement fund.”
The fact is, most members of Congress love to be in Washington full time because the longer they remain there, the wealthier they become. If you figure just salary and fringe benefits alone, we’re paying our Congressmen upwards of $280,000 per year, and that’s not counting the stock deals they often profit from. Perry would like to cut their salary in half, but, in the meantime, both chambers are already being forced by public opinion to address their stock-market dealings. Back on the table is reconsideration of the Stock Act, which would make it illegal for Congress or their staffs to profit from buying or selling securities or commodities based on insider, non-public information. In any event, maybe we wouldn’t care about Congressional greed so much if they would just get something done. But this year, Congress passed a modern-day, record-low number of bills, teetered on a government shutdown, failed to create new jobs and took no steps to regulate or punish Wall Street hoodlums who triggered the recession. And that brings me back to Gov. Perry’s proposal.
Sure there are those who warn that a part-time Congress would make it easy for lobbyists to control the way legislation is written. But that happens already. And there are those who say a part-time Congress wouldn’t be able to check the powers of the presidency. But thus far our fulltime Congress has allowed President Obama to get us into an additional war, gut important EPA regs, make a backroom deal with Big Pharma and collect more campaign donations from Wall Street than all of the GOP presidential candidates combined.
Truth is, I would never vote for Rick Perry, but I also won’t let my dislike for the man diminish the validity of his proposal. Congress has turned into a corrupt and deliberately ineffective body, and it’s time to reign them in. If we can’t do that, then maybe we should all just move to Texas and secede with Rick.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).