Perry’s part-time Congress has merit

by Jim Longworth

Texas Gov.Rick Perrymay not know what thelegal voting age is. He mayhave forgotten the name ofour nation’s first and onlyLatina Supreme Court justice.And he may have hada brain-freeze when tryingto remember the three federalagencies he wants toeliminate. But that doesn’tmean Perry isn’t capable ofarticulating a good idea now and again. After all,even a broken clock is right twice a day.Late last month, the man who once suggestedthat Texas should secede from the unionproposed that Congress should only operatepart time. After the scoffing died down fromsome of us so-called liberals, we realized thathis proposal has merit, and is not withouthistorical precedent.After the Revolutionary War concluded,we formed a new government and adopteda Constitution which set forth the duties andterms of our federally elected officials. Accordingto Article One, section 4, Congress is onlyrequired to assemble “at least once every year”,thus establishing the part-time nature of ourcitizen legislature.The truth is that senators and congressmencouldn’t afford to hang around DC full time backthen because they were only paid a few dollarsa day. Members did receive pay raises in 1815,1855 and 1935, raising their salaries to $1,500,$3,000 and $10,000 respectively, but they stillmaintained full-time jobs back home. Even as lateas the 1960s only a handful of the most powerfulCongressmen had full-time committee responsibilities.That changed during the Watergatescandal when Congress hunkered down to keepan eye on the Executive Branch.Congressional staffs and budgets grewexponentially from there, so much so, that by1993 Sen. Bob Dole suggested a return to a moretraditional legislative calendar. Said Dole, “If wecould spend six months here and six months athome, the country might be better off.” The conservativeHeritage Foundation agreed with Dole,issuing a report that said, “Congress has growntoo large and too expensive to maintain.” Butperhaps right-wing columnist Cal Thomas madethe most eloquent argument for streamliningDC. Speaking of Congress, Thomas wrote on hiswebsite, “Returning home shouldn’t mean flyinghome for long weekends and then coming backto Washington. It should mean returning to a realjob where the member can’t raise his own pay,receive top medical care at reduced or no cost,print and spend other people’s money, or count onothers to pay into his retirement fund.”The fact is, most members of Congress loveto be in Washington full time because the longerthey remain there, the wealthier they become. Ifyou figure just salary and fringe benefits alone,we’re paying our Congressmen upwards of$280,000 per year, and that’s not counting thestock deals they often profit from. Perry wouldlike to cut their salary in half, but, in the meantime,both chambers are already being forcedby public opinion to address their stock-marketdealings.Back on the table is reconsideration of theStock Act, which would make it illegal forCongress or their staffs to profit from buying orselling securities or commodities based on insider,non-public information.In any event, maybe we wouldn’t care aboutCongressional greed so much if they would justget something done. But this year, Congresspassed a modern-day, record-low number ofbills, teetered on a government shutdown, failedto create new jobs and took no steps to regulateor punish Wall Street hoodlums who triggeredthe recession. And that brings me back to Gov.Perry’s proposal.Sure there are those who warn that a part-timeCongress would make it easy for lobbyists tocontrol the way legislation is written. But thathappens already. And there are those who say apart-time Congress wouldn’t be able to check thepowers of the presidency. But thus far our fulltimeCongress has allowed President Obama toget us into an additional war, gut important EPAregs, make a backroom deal with Big Pharmaand collect more campaign donations from WallStreet than all of the GOP presidential candidatescombined.Truth is, I would never vote for Rick Perry, butI also won’t let my dislike for the man diminishthe validity of his proposal. Congress has turnedinto a corrupt and deliberately ineffective body,and it’s time to reign them in. If we can’t do that,then maybe we should all just move to Texas andsecede with Rick.Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,”airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45(cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m.on WMYV (cable channel 15).