Q&A Friday #95: If You Could Enact A Single Piece Of Legislation, What Would It Be?

by John Hawkins | October 10, 2008 9:39 am

Question: “If you could enact a single piece of legislation, for the sole purpose of streamlining/improving the way Congress as a whole functions, what would it be?” — Good_Ol_Boy

Answer: Term limits, term limits, and term limits. It’s more important than a balanced budget amendment, a fair tax, or any other piece of legislation you can name.

That’s because as long as Congress is primarily composed of people who look at their job as a posh career with wonderful benefits instead of a way to best serve their country, DC will remain a cesspool.

This excerpt from Rasmussen Reports[1] helps explain the problem,

(M)ore than 90% of Congress is likely to be elected this November due to an electoral system designed to benefit incumbents. The biggest advantage offered those in the House of Representatives is a process known as Gerrymandering where Congressional Districts are loaded with friendly voters from Representative’s own party. In effect, Members of Congress–working through their state legislature–get to choose their voters rather than letting voters choose their Congressman.

Also aiding incumbents is high name recognition from news coverage, large staffs funded by taxpayers, and other perks. While the staff positions are technically excluded from politics, the constituent services they provide in a Congressman’s name are among the most effective of all campaign techniques.

…When the Constitution was written, the nation’s founders expected that there would be a 50% turnover in the House of Representatives every election cycle. That was the experience they witnessed in state legislatures at the time (and most of the state legislatures offered just one-year terms). For well over 100 years after the Constitution was adopted, the turnover averaged in the 50% range as expected.

In the twentieth century, turnover began to decline. As power and prestige flowed to Washington during the New Deal era, fewer and fewer Members of Congress wanted to leave. In 1968, Congressional turnover fell to single digits for the first time ever and it has remained very low ever since.

Our current system is heavily weighted towards incumbents. Can they still lose? Absolutely — and they do. But, it’s like starting a basketball game with one team ahead by 20 every time. Will they win every time? No, but they have such a huge advantage it’s going to be difficult to overcome unless they make a huge mistake.

Moreover, if you want to know why it’s so impossible to get Congress to implement even the most common sense reforms, it’s because they’re usually willing to do things that they know are bad for the country to help protect their jobs.

Until we get a majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress whose first priority is serving this country instead of feathering their nests, I fear that it will be difficult to get our country back on the right track.

  1. Rasmussen Reports: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/election_20082/2008_presidential_election/59_would_vote_to_replace_entire_congress

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