How About a Real Contract with Congress?

  • SumoMe

Last week I watched the swearing-in ceremonies with the new Congress.

When I was growing up, I was taught that public service was a noble endeavor. It felt right to respect and admire our elected members to Congress. The U.S. Capitol was, of course, “The People’s House.”

swearing-in-ceremonyBut sadly, as I watched the ceremonies on TV, I did not feel anywhere near the sense of admiration I once had. It struck me that many of the incumbents in Congress are not public servants, but driven by self-interest and entitlement.

Let me explain.

Every election, incumbents on both sides play a dirty little game called “run out the clock.” Instead of debating their opponent, where they run the risk of the opponent scoring points with the voters, they avoid debates, sometimes altogether.

Excuses…Excuses…

I know from first-hand experience from my radio show. Countless times I contact incumbent politicians and ask them and their opponent to come on my show for an on-air debate.

Their campaign people act as if I was asking for their politician’s kidney. They throw the most ridiculous excuses back at me:

He or she is traveling. They have a busy campaign schedule. They can’t come into the station. They have an important function to attend. Or “important business” calls them back to Washington.

Or sometimes they just plain don’t respond to my requests at all.

Are our elected officials that afraid to face their opponents and their constituents? Obviously, the election risks outweigh the benefits.

But this is not about them. Holding elected office is not a “job” or “entitlement.” It is a privilege that is granted to them – temporarily- by the voters.

Turn the Oath of Office into a Legally Enforceable Contract

Unfortunately, many incumbents fail to remember that they serve at the pleasure of the people. So here are my proposals to add some real legal substance when Congress members are sworn in and take their oath of office:

  • A minimum of one Town Hall meeting per month. If they fail to hold a town hall meeting with their constituents in a given month, they are docked a month’s salary.
  • A minimum of five debates with their election-year opponent. Make it a requirement of holding office, or again dock them “election season salary” from September through November.

It’s time to call out these frauds. This is not sports, where a team tries to run out the clock to protect their lead. They are elected to represent our interests, not theirs.

There is a real sense of arrogance and entitlement that permeates the thinking of many incumbent Congress members and Senators. But much of the fault comes back to us. We have allowed these incumbents to think that they are entitled to be “career politicians.”

Incumbents get cagey when they try to hold onto their congressional seat. Their press people are eager to get them on my show to talk about some meaningless bill they’re introducing or pet project they’re sponsoring. But come election time, when it’s time to talk about and debate important issues- they’re nowhere to be found.

The Hypocrisy Applies to Both Sides

I think that is shameless and gutless. I have seen this election strategy in practice by both Democrats and Republicans. No matter what the political affiliation, it is dishonest and insulting to voters. How can you have a truly fair election when an incumbent becomes invisible and inaccessible?

I frequently bring this topic up when political groups invite me out to speak. I notice that whenever I call out an incumbent for not being more accessible and avoiding debates, the party faithful get quite upset at me.

“Don’t you want a conservative to hold that seat?” they ask me. My response, whether I am at a Republican event, a Democratic event or even a mixed gathering is still the same:

Don’t you realize that if an incumbent refuses to meet an opponent or meet his or her constituents, that it gives you a clear idea of their value system? Trying to manipulate their elected office is a slap in the face of voters. It cheapens and denigrates the election process.

If we want to bring fairness back to elections and a new degree of accountability from our elected officials, we have to demand it. They are certainly not going to take the initiative and give it to us.

That means holding every politician, regardless of their political stripes, to the same high standards. It means calling them out, even if they’re “your” politician.

Short of the President, Vice President and some key Cabinet positions, there is no more important job in Washington than serving as a U.S. Senator or member of Congress. If a Representative or Senator has good standing with their voters, he or she should not have any objection to monthly Town Halls or five election-year debates.

The Real “Entitlement” Issue in Washington

I always hear politicians talk about “tackling the entitlement issue” in Washington. It’s time to tackle the other entitlement issue: that our elected officials are allowed to stonewall their opponents or do the bare minimum (or worse) when it comes to meeting with their constituents.

More Town Halls and election year debates ate a step in the right direction. In order to get the undivided attention of these politicians, we have to talk in a language they’ll clearly understand: you don’t follow the “People’s rules,” the People are going to dock your pay.

It’s time to send a strong message- and make it part of the Congressional oath & contract- that these elected officials work for us…not the other way around.

4 Responses to How About a Real Contract with Congress?

  1. FrustratedTruthSeeker January 11, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    That would be great!

    I am looking for part two where you outline the technique that will be used to get it passed. And part three where you will describe how it will be enforced.

  2. Larry Cohen January 16, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    I actually think you are understating it.

    In the paper weekly I notice a
    reporter will go to the Mayor’s
    office and ask him what he will be doing on
    on a certain school policy or union violence and his
    office will say the mayor has no comment “.

    He has no right to say “No comment” !

    In fact he has the constitutional obligation to
    “account to the people” not only speak
    when he feels like it .

    The newspaper can change this
    by refusing to print his daily
    “ribbon cutting ” photos he never fails
    to show up for wearing his new suit.

  3. Dom January 22, 2013 at 11:59 pm #

    I think the only real way to hold these politicians accountable is to make them sign contracts and enforce them. Imagine them signing a legally binding contract, and the voters have the power to enforce it.

    • Sylvia June 3, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

      I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’m not sure how we can go about doing this. Is it possible for a private citizen to request certain public questions for the election or will we have to collect a certain number of signatures?

      Politicians do need to be more accountable. Their power has really gone to their heads! (Many of them). Politicians should not be exempt from the rules that they create such as The Affordable Care Act. Also if they don’t do their jobs and work with other members of congress instead of having filibusters then that too should be grounds for dismissal.

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