By Jon Christian Ryter
April 4, 2006
Not that I don't like the idea of Congress doing nothing. Believe me, I do. I think that's a grand old idea for the Grand Old Party. If Congress—both sides of the aisle—did nothing for the next 365 days America would be a far, far better place. If they had done nothing for the last 365 days, think how pleasant life would be. If fact, if we could undo about fifty years of things Congress did we'd have a better America.
But, let's face it. Congress has constituents it has to please who expect them to write a ton of new laws every year. Laws that prevent American working class stiffs like you and me from doing this, or laws that prevent American taxpayers from doing that. And, of course, laws the will allow non-Americans to do this, and laws that will allow non-Americans to do that—all at the expense of the American taxpayer. Yes, I really would like Congress to do nothing for a year—or perhaps for a decade. Even though I would like to see them repeal all of the laws they enacted during the New Deal and the Great Society. If they did that, America would be a refreshingly uncomplicated place to live.
But, for some reason, the American people expect their Congressmen and Senators to go to Washington, DC and write even more unneeded, unwanted, and very repetitious laws. I guess the taxpayers think their legislators should earn that $165,200.00 they get during their first year on Capitol Hill. (And, that's not counting the thousands of legal "bribes" (in the form of campaign contributions) that find their way into the new Congressman or Senator's war chest once they are anointed as "worthy" by the senior leadership by landing the right committee assignments.)
The buzz on the street is that the new Congressional work calendar calls for your legislators in the House and Senate to work a grueling 130 days this year. That's about a quarter of a year. That means—without considering the other perks and legal graft (campaign contributions from lobbyists who want your Senator and Congressmen to write the laws to benefit them)—your representatives in the nation's capital will earn a stipend of $1,270.00 per day for each of the 130 days they will have to sweat and toil over the new laws they are crafting that are supposed to make our lives better, safer—but certainly not more prosperous. Wouldn't you love a job that would pay you about $41,300.00 a month—and you only had to work 4 months a year to earn it?
Congressional staffers are paid based on a 40-hour work week, 50-weeks a year. They work hard—and they earn their paychecks—if for no other reason than for putting up with their bosses. Can you imagine being a middle class white male staffer working for Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney [D-GA]? Or being a female staffer—of any age or nationality—working for Teddy Kennedy? Or just being human and working for Hillary Clinton? The Hill staffers earn their paychecks.
They do, but what about the legislator? I think the paychecks of Congressmen and Senators should be pegged on the same 40-hour, 50-week work schedule. Instead of earning $1,270.77 per day for the 130 days they plan to work this year, they should have a per diem based on a real year's labor. The Congressman or Senator should be paid $3,200.00 per week, or $640.00 per day—but only for those days worked. If Congress wants to be in session for 130 days this year, fine. Pay the Congressman or Senator for the days Congress is in session. How much is that a year? $83,200.00. How many people do you know that earn $83,200 per year? Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating that we keep Congress in session longer. My God, if they were in session for 240 or 250 days each year, there's no telling how much damage they would do to America.
For that reason alone, I'd love to see Congress in session for even less days. Also Congressmen and Senators should be required to go home (not to their permanent homes in McLean, Arlington, Fairfax or Tyson's Corners, Virginia) but to their temporary "claimstake" homes in the State from which they were elected. That way, when the voters had to actually live next door to these folks and actually saw, firsthand, what a bunch of horses' hindends most of them are 24-7, we wouldn't have to worry about term limits. The good people in America's heartland would chuck some of these primadonnas after they realized their neighbor's poodle could write better law.
Thus far in 2006, the House has been in session for 23 days. This is the start of the second quarter. If they continued at their current pace, the House will be in session this year for 92 days. The Senate, because of the Alito confirmation hearing, has been in session 39 days. At this rate, they could be in session for as many as 156 days—about their 2002 level. In 2000—the last Clinton Congress—the House met for 139 days and the Senate was in session for 141 days. The first Bush Congress worked a little bit harder, but they have Sept. 11 to deal with in 2001. The House met for 146 days and the Senate for 174. And, with the Patriot Act, you saw they damage they were able to do with an additional week or two.
Unfortunately for the country, the traditionally uninformed taxpayer who understands almost nothing about politics and even less about politicians—and who actually believes the government is here to help them—believes that the federal lawmakers need to spend even more time in Washington making laws. In fact, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] is counting on that come November. Democratic advisers have noticed that over the past couple of decades Congress has met fewer and fewer days—particularly during an election year.
The first person to notice that was Democratic President Harry S. Truman, who was running a come-from-behind race against Republican New York Governor Tom Dewey in 1948. Because the Democrats didn't have any dirt to throw at Dewey, they decided to go after the Republican-controlled Congress.
Truman's press people coined a slogan that people remember to this day. "The Do-nothing Congress." The GOP had snagged control of both the House and Senate in 1946, and the Democrats wanted Congress back badly. Truman knew that to get re-elected, he had to turn on the entitlement spigot—a political faucet the GOP turned off in 1946. Truman called Congress back into session twice during the 80th Congress. The first time was Nov. 17 to Dec. 19, 1947. The second time was from July 26 to Aug. 7, 1948. Truman expected Congress to pass civil rights legislation and an increase in the minimum wage. The GOP buried the legislation in committee and sat on their thumbs until they could recess and get out on the campaign field.
Lacking the legislation that would get him reelected, Truman dubbed the 80th Congress the "Do-nothing Congress." It stuck.
During the Election of 1948, lackluster Truman was in deep trouble. To help drain votes from Dewey, the Democrats enlisted conservative Democratic South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond to throw his hat in the ring—and pull votes from Dewey. Thurmond created the Dixiecrat Party and pulled what we would today call "Reagan Democrats" away from the GOP. Not only did Truman win one of the closest political races of the 20th century, the stigma of the term "Do-nothing Congress" cost the Republican Party control of both Houses of Congress that year. Congress had been in session for only 108 days, and Truman's minimum wage bill that would have affected the American working class, languished and died in committee as the politicians hurried off to campaign for re-election. The GOP did not regain joint control of both Houses of Congress until 1994.
"When I called them back into session," Truman harangued during one whistle-stop campaign speech after another (and later recorded the brief speech in his book, Congress and the Nation), "what did they do? Nothing. Nothing! That Congress never did anything the whole time it was in session."
Dewey, who knew the GOP killed a reckless spending bill that would have started Lyndon Johnson's Great Society—that shackled America's minorities to the bureaucratic feeding trough for four decades, bankrupting Social Security two generations earlier—called the 80th Congress one of the best of the century. But not even the most liberal politicians in Washington could have imagined, in 1948, that abortion would rob the nation of 62,500,000 taxpayers in three decades and bankrupt the Federal Reserve as well as Social Security.
The Democrats, believing history will repeat itself this year, have resurrected the phrase, "the Do-nothing Congress," and have applied it to the 109th Congress. "This is the least time we have spent in Washington since at least the 1950s," Congressman Jim McDermott [D-WA] said. "They're keeping us out of town."
"This is an election year," House Majority Leader John Boehner [R-OH] told the media. "People want to see more of their constituents." Boehner, if you recall, just won a lawsuit against McDermott over a cell phone call of Boehner's that was recorded by a partisan Democrat who gave the recording to McDermott. McDermott illegally made the information public.
House Minority Leader Pelosi believes 1948 will repeat itself this year. As Boehner was talking about getting out to meet the constituents, Pelosi told reporters that "...[V]oters expect Congress to do something that is relevant to their lives. [The voters] have to work five days a week," she added patronizingly, "I don't know why we shouldn't."
Fortunately, I know her words are Cinderella rhetoric. The day after the election, Pelosi and the rest of her ilk who duped the American public into re-electing them, will be off to exotic places for a much needed post-election vacation. If only they would stay there until the day after the next election. I'd probably vote for any politician who would agree to do that. Do nothing...please.
© 2006 Jon C. Ryter - All Rights
Order Jon Ryter's book "Whatever Happened to America?"
Jon Christian Ryter is the pseudonym of a former newspaper reporter with the Parkersburg, WV Sentinel. He authored a syndicated newspaper column, Answers From The Bible, from the mid-1970s until 1985. Answers From The Bible was read weekly in many suburban markets in the United States.
Today, Jon is an advertising executive with the Washington Times. His website, www.jonchristianryter.com has helped him establish a network of mid-to senior-level Washington insiders who now provide him with a steady stream of material for use both in his books and in the investigative reports that are found on his website.