Americans neither like nor trust Congress. A survey by ABC NewsWashington Post, May 19-23, 1989 found that 79% of Americans agreed that "most members of Congress will tell lies if they feel the truth will hurt them politically," 75% agreed that they "care more about special interests than they care about people like [themselves]", 71% that they "make campaign promises they have no intention of fulfilling," 66% that they "care more about keeping power than they do about the best interests of the nation" and 57% that they "make a lot of money using public office improperly." Does anybody think the reputation of Congress has risen since then?
This is why every now and then some people get enthusiastic about a proposal to reform Congress in some manner, such as denying members of Congress their special perks (like their superb health insurance) and their large salaries, or imposing term limits, or limiting the size of campaign donations, or providing public funds for election campaigns. (I have copied the latest such proposal below.) These reforms are all proposed as a way to make the politicians truly represent ordinary people whom they theoretically represent, rather than serve wealthy special interests or their own greedy selves.
But the problem is bigger than any of these reforms can solve. All of these reforms can be enacted (some already have been) but the problem will remain. The root of the problem is theextreme inequality that puts the real power in society in the hands of billionaires. National politicians cannot win elections without the support of the mass media, which are owned by the upper class plutocracy. This--not salary and benefit perks or any of the other things that the proposed reforms address--is why Congressional politicians serve the upper class instead of ordinary Americans. Their salary and perks are merely a symptom of the problem but not the cause. In fact, plenty of the politicians in Congress are independently wealthy and don’t need their salary or the health coverage perks. Forty-four percent of members of Congress are millionaires.
Very big problems require very big solutions. How do we solve the problem that our society is based on class inequality, one-dollar-one vote? How do we solve the problem that the mass media and all of the other key institutions in our society, including not only the corporations but the schools, labor unions, churches and foundations as well, are owned and controlled by the very wealthy. How do we solve the problem that politicians can only get elected by doing what the very wealthy want them to do?
The big solution that is required is a fundamental social revolution to remove power from the ruling plutocracy and create a society based on equality.
Small solutions like the recent proposed one, copied below, will not solve the big problem:
Congressional Reform Act of 2011 (Amendment 28 of the U.S. Constitution)
1. No Tenure and No Pension. A Congressman collects a salary while in officeand receives no pay when they are out of office.
2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates the same as all other American people. The Social Security fund may not be used for any other purpose.
3. Congress must purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.
4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts with and for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so congressmen should serve their terms (no more than 2), then go home and find a job. Former congressmen cannot be lobbiest.