"I wanted the music to play on forever.
"Have I stayed too long at the fair?" -- Barbra Streisand lyric
The finding by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee that Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) is guilty of financial misconduct and the conviction of former Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay by a jury in Austin, Texas on charges of political money laundering brings a question: Are we getting the Congress we're paying for?
I'm with Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, who told Human Events last week, "Make them part time; give them term limits. Don't let them become lobbyists. When they have to live under the same rules and laws they pass for the rest of us, maybe you'd see some more common sense coming out of Washington." Jindal, a former congressman, said once elected, too many lawmakers become entrenched in Washington and are transformed into the very people they campaigned against.
I've seen no polling on this question, but I would bet most Americans are not clamoring for Congress to pass more laws. Several states have part-time legislatures that meet every two years to consider a budget and other truly important matters. At other times, the part-time legislature is on-call should anything momentous occur. Should Congress follow suit? Maybe if it did we would be better off. A part-time Congress might reduce the temptations exemplified by Rangel and DeLay.
Serving in Congress should be seen as just that: service, which is distinct from self-service. It ought to be considered a privilege, not a profession.
The Founders were keenly aware of the danger of a Congress divorced from the realities of the rest of the country. During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Roger Sherman of Connecticut wrote, "Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of government, they would acquire the habits of the place, which might differ from those of their constituents."
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. If he owned a business, he would have to meet a payroll and balance the budget. The member would also have to rely on Social Security, like other Americans.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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