That Pesky Constitution

That idea I floated yesterday? The one about making Legislative pay and benefits dependent on how well Congress, you know, actually does its job? Turns out it wouldn’t take immediate effect because of the 27th Amendment.

Herein lies a lesson in how age dims the faculties … especially when one’s references are also old.

The copy of the U.S. Constitution that I have near to hand, and that I used before publishing yesterday’s post, was printed in 1984. Thus it predates the 1992 ratification of the 27th Amendment — and, frankly, I had forgotten that amendment even existed. Given that it was ratified during my second USAF assignment, and didn’t make a big impression on me at the time, perhaps I can be forgiven that error.

Anyway, the 27th Amendment says, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Thus, Congress can’t vote itself an immediate pay raise (which I knew, and joked about in “I Think I’ll Run for Congress”), but they also can’t have their pay immediately docked. The first thing makes sense, but I’m not so sure about the second.

Pay to the order of...
(Image: “Pay to the order of…,” by dslrninja, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

So, a law like the one I laid out yesterday could be passed, but it wouldn’t go into effect until the next congressional session. That might be okay — in fact, it might be good, because it would give a little bit of time for lawmakers to start buckling down to their fiscal responsibilities.

I suppose another way to go, though it would take more time, would be to put forward a new amendment. Maybe something like this, to change one word in the 27th Amendment to allow for pay reductions to take immediate effect:

Amendment

Section 1. The twenty-seventh article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. No law, increasing the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

In the current climate, I imagine something like that would be ratified fairly quickly by the states. But, like yesterday’s proposal, I doubt I’d find many people willing to co-sponsor it.

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Another Wacky Idea: Legislative Pay Based on Fiscal Performance

In honor (ha!) of the latest government shutdown, I present another of my wild ideas about the government from the perspective of the “Anti-Candidate.” This idea would fit in well with a series of blog posts I wrote several years ago called “If I Were My Own Representative” — I’ll link to them at the bottom of this post, for anyone who’s interested — or with the myriad other tax ideas I’ve floated through the years.

The Anti-Candidate, of course, running the perpetual “Anti-Campaign,” has no chance of ever implementing any of these oddball notions. But if anyone wanted to fund and run a campaign to get me elected to the U.S. legislature — I don’t want to deal with the hassle of getting elected, but despite my joking around about politics I’d actually be honored to serve — I’d take great pleasure in submitting a bill something like this:

Whereas, it is the solemn responsibility of the U.S. Government to act as a trustworthy steward of the citizens’ treasure; and

Whereas, the endless accumulation of debt is not indicative of good stewardship; and

Whereas, the U.S. Constitution charges the Congress with the power to lay and collect taxes, and the power to spend the revenues therefrom; and

Whereas, the mechanism for spending the collected revenues is the annual budget for the operation of the U.S. Government; and

Whereas, the U.S. Constitution forbids the withdrawal of monies from the Treasury except under duly-legislated appropriations;

Be it hereby enacted that salaries and benefits for Legislative Branch personnel, including Senators, Representatives, and the top-paid half of their respective staffs, shall in perpetuity be limited as follows:

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under a complete budget in which authorizations and appropriations are projected to be revenue-neutral or produce a surplus, 100 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under a complete budget in which authorizations and appropriations are projected to produce a deficit, 80 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under an incomplete budget, leaving any U.S. Government function to operate under a continuing resolution, 60 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating entirely under continuing resolutions, 40 percent; or

– For the first 7 calendar days of any period in which the U.S. Government ceases normal operations for lack of appropriated funds, 20 percent;

– For any period beyond the first 7 calendar days in which the U.S. Government ceases normal operations for lack of appropriated funds, zero.

The above adjustments shall be made automatically by the Treasury except in cases where the President has returned duly passed appropriation legislation to the Congress, in which case the adjustment shall be as if the President had signed the legislation.

Or something like that. Obviously I’m no master of legal lingo, and I’ve probably left out some important details, but hopefully that gets the idea across.


(Image: U.S. Capitol, Western Front, from Wikimedia Commons.)

It would be amusing to listen to legislators explain why they should receive their full pay when they haven’t performed one of the most basic functions of their job. But for that to happen, the bill would have to get to the floor, which means getting through committee(s), which means it first must be brought up — and something tells me it would be fairly difficult to find a co-sponsor.

Still, it’s fun to think about.

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P.S. For anyone who might care, the five parts of the “If I Were My Own Representative” series were:
If I Were My Own Representative, Part I
Part II: Knowing What I’m Voting For
Part III: Hearings and Caucuses
Part IV: My Touchstone for Voting
Part V: A Positive Message

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A Picture of Political Intolerance

Free speech in the form of streetside signage apparently didn’t mean much to the opponents of these candidates:


(Picture taken 26 October 2014. Click to enlarge.)

If you know the party affiliations of Renee Ellmers and Nelson Dollar, then you should be able to guess what candidate’s sign is crumpled up in the upper right. I’ll give you three guesses, but you probably won’t need them.*

These signs had been on Cary Parkway, right at the end of our street. Last night while we were walking the dog, I noticed them thrown into the bushes. I took the picture early this morning.

I get it, if you don’t like the little yard signs that pop up like dandelions every election season. I don’t particularly like them, either.

But if your idea of political activism is to interfere with the free speech of your political opponents, then you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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*Ellmers and Dollar are Republicans, if that helps.

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One Week Until the Election Filing Period Opens …

Maybe it’s the flu talking, but once again I’m thinking about whether I’d like to run for office. (Seriously.) (Okay, sort-of seriously.)

Hope is a belief in a positive outcome...
(“Hope is a belief in a positive outcome…,” by Vince Alongi, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

It would be interesting to see if my unconventional approach to politics — from the Anti-Campaign to my political anthem — would generate any interest in an actual election. To get on the primary ballot, I’d have to sign up and pay money before the end of February.

The filing fee is one percent of the annual salary of whatever office you seek, so I would need to decide whether I should try to serve at the local level or the state level or the national level. From my time in the USAF, and especially my work on the Air Staff, I’m most familiar with how things work at the national level. And, as proof of my arrogance and megalomania, I think I would be as fine a member of Congress as anyone. On the other hand, all politics is local and serving at the local level would have its own set of challenges and rewards. And it would cost a lot less to file.

Of course, if I did file, I’d have to actually campaign — and that takes time and money, too, neither of which I have in abundance. Which is why I wrote,

I’d like to run for Congress, and play the political game
But I don’t have very much money, to wage a big campaign
I’m okay with giving speeches and debating might be fun
If I took myself more seriously, then I might really run

— “I Think I’ll Run for Congress

So the driving factor in whether I should file and run for office has to be whether anybody wants me to — and wants it enough to help organize, fund, and execute a campaign.

What about it, local folks? Any interest in working on a political campaign?

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Vote for Gray! (The Anti-Candidate Lives)

After much soul-searching and “counting the cost,” I have decided NOT to file as a candidate for the 2010 election primary. (Today is the deadline.) Instead, I will continue making snide observations about the candidates and the process, and as the Anti-Candidate I remain available for any write-in votes you want to cast.

(East view of the U.S. Capitol. U.S. Government photo. Click to enlarge.)

I received a lot of encouragement from folks, and I appreciate everyone’s confidence and general enthusiasm. I especially appreciate the offers of office space and other support. Maybe next time….

I made the decision based on four practical considerations. First, I don’t have any spare time to devote to the actual work of campaigning, not while I’m working two jobs and spending most of my off hours on church matters. Second, I haven’t built an organization capable of running a campaign, spreading the word, and getting out the vote. Third, owing to the lack of an organization, I don’t have any campaign funds to pay for things like the campaign filing fee. And finally, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of candidates already in position, each of whom has more time, more of an organization, and more money than I do. So, from a practical standpoint, it made sense to sit this one out.

Some folks really seem to want me to run for office, and maybe one day I will. In the meantime, if you want to get an idea of where I stand on the issues, I’ll let you know as soon as I figure that out. (Actually, I’ve posted some issue-related ramblings on the Anti-Campaign pages.)

And if you don’t like the choices set before you on election day (or primary day), and can’t decide which one(s) you should vote against, feel free to vote against all of them by writing in my name!

(I’m Gray Rinehart, and I approved this message.)

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If I Were My Own Representative, Part IV: My Touchstone for Voting

A lot of legislation is pitched on the basis of what it is intended to do, and often on the basis of whom it is intended to help. If I Were My Own Representative, my touchstone for voting would be quite the opposite: whom it was likely to hurt.

(U.S. Capitol dome, from the Architect of the Capitol. Click to enlarge.)

My initial position would be to vote “no” on any bill that had a provision that would hurt some of our citizens, even if it helped some others. I would have to be convinced that the help was worth the hurt; i.e., that the hurt was along the lines as the necessary pain of surgery to correct a life-threatening condition.

If it wasn’t clear what effects some given legislation would have, whether it would hurt some people while helping some others, I would at least ASK. If no one could tell me, again my initial thought would be to vote against it.

Note that I’ve qualified the “help/hurt” question in terms of our citizens, because they should be first priority. We may enact legislation that helps others — especially where our relative wealth can help those in dire need — but not necessarily at the expense of hurting our own people.

When it comes to legislation with the potential to hurt others, the question has an added dimension: whether those others are allies or enemies. It’s unrealistic to believe that we have no enemies, and I think the Romans 12:18 standard applies to international relations: if possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people. But we need to be pragmatic when it comes to potential conflict, and it would be irresponsible to fail to provide for organizing, training, and equipping the military forces that defend us.

Why is this a big deal? Maybe it’s not. But I don’t want my Representatives to pass legislation that hurts me or my friends, so I wouldn’t want to vote for legislation that would hurt people.

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If I Were My Own Representative, Part III: Hearings and Caucuses

I’ve been to a Congressional hearing, watched a few more on TV, and prepared testimony for several. Hearings, in general, are effective for Congress to gather information so it can evaluate alternatives and exercise its oversight. But some of the hearings seem trivial, either in their subject matter or their treatment, and become little more than media events for grandstanding by elected officials and witnesses.

If I Were My Own Representative, I could go to hearings on trivial subjects and ask, “Why are we having this hearing? Don’t we have better things to do?” Better things like debating big, substantive issues; reconciling or voting on bills; or even crafting our own legislation so lobbyists wouldn’t have to?

Not all hearings are on trivial subjects, of course, but they aren’t all on matters of great importance to the state, either. And even the ones I think are trivial are obviously important to somebody.* Why, I don’t know … hence, the question I’d like to ask.

Would it be rude to ask the question? Oh, yeah. And not exactly politically astute: I presume nobody questions whether a given hearing is trivial in order not to offend their fellows. If I did that, they might not want to attend my trivial hearings. As quid-pro-quo goes, that’s probably pretty harmless. But it’s not as fun.

As for caucuses — of which, like committees and hearings, there are probably more than necessary — I’d definitely join the Air Force Caucus. I don’t know if any other caucuses would have me!

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*For example: A subject I consider trivial, like steroids in sports, you might consider of paramount importance to the survival of our democratic republic. To each, his own.

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