Saturday, October 20, 2007

On My Mind - Are term limits the solution to what ails politics?

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On My Mind - Are term limits the solution to what ails politics?
BY BILL TRAMMELL Special to the Independent-Mail

Public opinion of the United States Congress appears to be near an all-time low, with less than 20 percent approval rating.
Voter participation at all levels continues to decline, doubtless caused by failure on the part of legislators to come up with meaningful solutions to long-existing problems.
Our government appears to operate on the philosophy that preparation for possible impending calamities is unnecessary. Examples: Long-standing failure to repair levees before Katrina, virtually ignoring the first attempt to destroy the World Trade Center.
I am in no way inferring that the fault lies entirely with either of the two major parties.

Here is a partial list of unaddressed issues:
1. The ever-increasing national debt. This now amounts to trillions of dollars, the total probably unknown by anyone.
2. The energy crisis dating back to the early ’70s. The current solution is ethanol, which costs about as much in energy to produce as it delivers.
3. The impending bankruptcy of the social security system. So-called trust funds have been virtually stolen, transferred to the general fund and then frittered away.
4. Global warming. What if those who insist that we, the people in no way contribute to this phenomenon are wrong? Then what? The damage will have been done and cannot be rectified.
5. The rising cost of health care and cost of medications completely out of line with the cost of inflation and a Medicare system on the verge of going broke.
6. Congress’s apparent out-of-control spending. Earmarks, for example, now cost $40 billion annually, with no real oversight.
7. The farm subsidy dates back to the 1930s and was designed to help struggling farmers. This complicated law now primarily pours more than $40 billion per year into the coffers of largely huge farm combines, not the small farmers whose ranks continue to decrease.
8. The proliferation of registered lobbyists in Washington. Each legislator has more than 250. They put billions into the hands of our elected officials, from whom they expect preferential treatment.
9. Disintegrating infrastructure. The collapse of a major bridge 40 years ago (the “Silver Bridge” in West Virginia in 1967, killing 46) should have been a warning. Much of the federal gasoline tax is being spent on anything but road and bridge repairs. Proposed solution: More taxes.
10. The United Nations. This organization has proven to be an almost complete failure. We pick up 25 percent of the annual tab to run this travesty, with little to show for it.
11. Immigration. Why not observe the laws already in place? What is there about the definition of the word “illegal” that so many politicians and business owners don’t seem to comprehend?
12. Education. Apparently there seems to be a dumbing down of the system at the expense of the mentally gifted. Other countries encourage these students. We don’t, and the U.S. is falling far behind in an area that we once dominated.
13. Foreign aid. Several billion dollars annually is given to countries, about 80 percent of who regularly vote against the U.S. on proposed U.N. resolutions and oppose our every move in most every other area.
14. Terrorism. This didn’t start on 9/11. A major attack occurred in 1983, when 241 American servicemen lost their lives to terrorists as a result of the bombing of their barracks in Beirut. Anyone who thinks this problem is going away should do a little research.
15. A legislative body that seems to have lost its moral compass. Little or no attempt is being made to control unethical behavior. Witness convicted felons still drawing sizable pensions.
16. Absolutely no cap on campaign spending. The average House member must raise $500,000 (about $700 per day) and a senator $5 million (about $2,000 per day). When is there ever time to legislate? A large staff paid by us taxpayers does help.

Many Congress members have an understandable desire to stay in office as long as possible. The perks, amenities and retirement benefits are numerous, and generally superior to those offered in the private sector. Is there any wonder that they seek re-election time after time?
Seniority, regardless of ability, rules in both houses. As it stands now, a newcomer has little or no chance of getting the funds to send home — which always helps in a re-election bid or drawing a favorable committee assignment — without going along with entrenched leaders’ desires. Committee chairmanships automatically go to those who have been in office the longest.
And where do the bulk of campaign funds come from? Not from your average $100 contributor.
Enter the lobbyists with their unlimited PAC funds, which somehow manage to end up in the hands of legislators who just might pass legislation favorable to their wishes.
So, what can be done to change things for the better?

I offer one overriding solution: TERM LIMITATION.

We have many of the same problems today that have been with us for decades, with much being promised and not much being done.
Many legislators were in Congress then and are still there now, and still assuring us that the solutions are momentary.
With members constantly being replaced, new ideas and new concepts could be introduced. Obviously, what we have now isn’t working. We are past time to try a new approach.
If a member knew that he would only be in office for a set length of time (perhaps eight years), very likely he could spend more time legislating instead of soliciting funds to run another re-election campaign.
Ability rather than longevity could be exercised.
Surely, if the president and many governors are restricted to eight years in office, is there any reason to believe that members of Congress should stay any longer?