Tag Archives: congress

Priority One: Campaign Finance Reform – A Plan

It should be obvious to all by now that the number one priority for America needs to be an overhaul of our campaign and lobbying processes.  The core objective needs to be to eliminate any and all conflicts of interest that prevent representatives from acting in the interest of their constituents.

Here’s the plan.

  1. Use Wiki technology to perfect language for a constitutional amendment (necessary because it must be able to stand on a par with the First Amendment) that will:
    1. Limit total campaign contributions individuals can make to the political process as a whole in any given year, tying increases over time to increases in the minimum wage.
    2. Allow for substantial public matching funds for campaigns demonstrating an ability to raise money via the small amounts above.
    3. Ban campaign contributions from all sources other than individuals and government matching funds
    4. Eliminate the concept of corporate “personhood” and then subject corporate lobbying to strict limitations
    5. Limit the “revolving door” between regulators and the regulated
    6. Increase the maximum congressional district size to 100,000 citizens and end “gerrymandering”.
  2. Found organizations in all 50 states to promote legislative passage of said amendment among 3/4 of the states
  3. Stage “Solidarity” style demonstrations and general strikes until Congress ratifies
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What if the House of Representatives had 9,000 members instead of 435?

Remember from civics that the House of Representatives was intended to be the volatile, nearly direct voice of the people and the Senate was to be the staid, deliberative voice of the states? Aside from the rules of the two houses and the terms of office, the far greater number of Representatives was intended to ensure that Representatives were very closely connected to the people they represented. Hence… the name of their body. The limit on this was set that there should never be more than one representative for every 30,000 citizens. At this level, Representatives had very little individual power compared to Senators, but their numbers and their close connection to their constituencies were to ensure that the will of the people had a strong voice.

In 1911, public law 62-5 was passed, which limited the number of members of the House of Representatives to 435, maintaining Congress’ authority to change that number if it wants to. The effect of this has been the steady increasing in size of Congressional Districts and the diminishing of the connection between a Representative and his or her constituents. Indeed, each member of the House of Representatives has a constituency of nearly 650,000 people today. That’s a far cry from 30,000.

At 650,000 constituents, the typical Representative is little more connected to his constituents than the Senators. They are somewhat more connected, to be sure. The focus of a representative whose district includes a mid-size city is going to be different from a representative whose district covers thousands of square miles of rural farmland. But the intimacy of the representation is clearly lost.

  • Williamsport, PA
  • Rochester, NH
  • Ithaca, NY
  • Prattville, AL
  • Newark, DE
  • Cooper City, FL
  • Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Marysville, OH
  • Saratoga, CA
  • Texarkana, AR
  • Walla Walla, WA
  • Juneau, AK
  • Roseville, MN

These are some US cities that have populations of more or less 30,000 people. I can pretty much guarantee you that any citizen of these cities can get an appointment with the mayor. Probably, they can walk into the mayor’s office and get a quick audience in between meetings. The mayors of these cities know their citizens and the issues that concern them like the back of their hand. They know the families. The know the kids. They know not just the big businesses, but the small ones.

I can also pretty much guarantee you that many, many of the citizens of that city are intimately aware of the quality of the mayor’s representation. They know whether decisions are being made because they are good for them or for their neighbors and they certainly know when something has gone amiss and suddenly decisions are being made for some company 1,200 miles away that doesn’t even have any employees in the city.

At one representative per 30,000 people, the House of Representatives would have over 9,000 members. We would have to do some work to make sure that a governing body of 9,000 could get anything done. But we live in an extremely connected world. The Internet and telecommunications, the highway system, and air travel, have vastly changed the way most of us do business. It really would not be necessary that all 9,000 members of the House assembled at the same time and place. If we wanted to, we could find ways for them to telecommute like so many of us do now. And what a change that would be to have our Representatives living with us again, in our communities, every day. Wouldn’t it be something if they always showed up at little league games, and you ran into them a couple of times a month at Burger King it seemed, and your kids went to school with his kids, and he jogged past your house in the morning…

Think of how difficult it would be for lobbyists to gain sway with them and steer them toward representing interests other than those that truly are important to their close friends and family and to their neighbors.

Now, perhaps 9,000 is too many representatives, although, for the life of me I don’t know why it would be. But it seems that 435 is ludicrously too few. At this ridiculously low level, each member of the House has way more power than was intended for them to have. They are nowhere near as closely connected to their constituents as was intended. No matter where they come from, they end up living and working in a major metropolitan area in the mid-Altantic. Whether they represent farmers, lumberjacks, a college community, or a bedroom community, they all end up dealing with the Metro in Washington DC. They live in a culture, often for years and years and years, that is not remotely like the one they represent.

We need to have some national think time about this. We need to increase the number of Representatives in the House of Representatives probably well into the thousands so, once again, they can be people you know and work with, people you grew up with. The need to become again people of modest, normal, everyday backgrounds instead of being limited only to millionaires and people with completely atypical American experiences.

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Stimulus Package – I’m Getting OK With It

Search Results – THOMAS (Library of Congress).

I have a couple thoughts about the stimulus package.

Lobbying Problem Costs Us Governance Of, By, and For the People

Until we fix the lobbying problem, Washington will be incapable of making any decisions in the interest of the citizenry at large.  We will not be able to fix the economy, health care, Wall Street or anything else right until lobbyists can be eliminated from the equation.  Every time we try, 50% of what we spend and do will be in the interest of small groups at the expense of the whole rather than in the interest of the nation as one.  That said, we can’t just  do nothing until that day comes.

A lot of what is in here really will stimulate the economy.

When discussion of a stimulus package of this sort started, we were done a disservice by those who focused on “infrastructure”, namely, roads and bridges.  Rebuilding roads and bridges and improving mass transit systems will create jobs, will stimulate the economy, and in many cases will prove to be beneficial in the long run.  But when you look at the 3 million people who have lost their jobs in the last few months… you know, how many of Microsoft’s 5,000 layoffs poured concrete for a living?  How many of the tens of thousands laid off from companies like Starbucks, Macy’s, Panasonic, General Motors, Sprint, Pfizer, Caterpillar, or United Airlines would know a piece of re-bar if they tripped on it?

Have you ever driven a bulldozer?

The fact is that if we created 4 million new jobs building roads, we would probably have to take that stupid fence back down to do it.  The  skills that exist in the talent pool being rapidly created in this country is way to diverse to be efficiently sopped up with “shovel ready” concrete-intensive projects.

That’s why the stimulus bill has money going in so many different directions.  It is also why it is over 700 pages long and growing by the minute.  We live in an extremely complex economy, our government itself is extremely complex, and when we have to line item one by one by one even the large buckets of project types and classifications we need to fund… it takes a lot of pages.  At the end of the day, though, this bill is providing stimulus funding of unprecedented scale that will create jobs in the healthcare sector, the information technology sector, the energy sector, construction (of course!), electronics, research, agriculture, security, defense… every major department of government is getting money to use to stimulate those portions of the economy that it interfaces with.

A lot of this stimulus shouldn’t be called stimulus.

For 30 years, since 1981, we have treated the government as a problem rather than a solution.  We have starved it, under-funded it, punished it and neglected it, and then complained about how inefficient it is and how poorly it works.  For instance, there was scalding hot testimony on the hill today from a whistle-blower who gave the SEC intricately detailed evidence of Madoff’s ponzi scheme… in 2001!  The SEC didn’t do anything with it, largely because there apparently wasn’t anyone left there whose job it was to deal with ponzi schemes and outright fraud.  Last year when Congress pushed Chairman Cox to increase the SEC budget so it could do a better job, he declined.

We all complain about education, but we routinely vote against tax increases for education.  We complain about the DMV, but while the people in there do tend to shuffle more than hustle sometimes… the core problem is that it is understaffed by what, 50%?  Our judicial backlogs aren’t just because our courts are inefficient… we simply are not paying for the number of them that we need to handle the work.  When a social worker or a public defender has a case load 5 times what they should, the problem isn’t just that there are too many cases or that these folks are working too slowly.  We are starving these systems to death… and then complaining about how weak and ineffective they are.

Good government like good cars, good wine, good clothes, good toys and good service costs good money.

From what I see, a lot of the money in this stimulus package is going to funding, or at least partially and temporarily funding, many of the starved, malnourished, desperately impoverished functions of government and many of the beneficial and necessary investments we should have been making for decades, that we have failed to make.  This funding will, indeed, have a stimulative effect.  But at this level, all spending stimulates the economy… but not all spending should be considered emergency stimulus spending.  A lot of what is in this bill on a temporary basis are small, probably tiny, down payments on funding decisions that eventually need to be made permanent.

Americans, we do still have the biggest economy and the biggest military in the world, by far.  But we are not the most advanced nation, despite what we are constantly told.  All over the world, nations pay less per capita for health care than we do and they get better results! We do not have the safest, best, and most efficient road system in the world.  We do not have the most modern telecommunications infrastructure in the world.  We do not have the most energy efficient houses.  We do not uniformly have the best schools.  We certainly don’t have the world’s best legal system.  We are not the smartest, we are not the wealthiest, we do not have the richest cultural environment, etc.  We can be, but we have chosen not to invest in these things.  Where we have failed to invest and it is impossible to earn a return from an investment that hasn’t been made.

This bill does a lot of investing in the name of emergency stimulus that ought to be made in the name of good government.  But as I said at the top, until we clean up the lobbying mess, we cannot really make any of these decisions very well.  What we have here isn’t as wasteful as it seems, even though there is a lot of spending that is no doubt, wasteful.


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