Maybe citizens could pick who will serve in Congress

October 09, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

I think I have found a system to get rid of Congress.

As we all can agree, most members of Congress have served too long and have amassed too much power.

They have become professional politicians, who think only of the next election.

We need to replace these bums with citizen-legislators, like we had in the early days of our Republic.

We need new, fresh, unsullied faces.

L And many Americans have turned to term limits as the answer.

Sixteen states have already approved term limits for their members of Congress and six more states may add them Nov. 8.

While the details differ somewhat from state to state, in most cases the new laws would limit a person to serving six years in the House (three terms) and 12 years in the Senate (two terms).

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments about the constitutionality of term limits on Nov. 29.

But supporters of term limits say that if they lose before the Supreme Court, they will merely pass a constitutional amendment and achieve their goal that way.

I have only one problem with term limits: They are too broad, too absolute.

Every now and then a citizen-legislator might come along whom we really might want to keep around longer than two or three terms.

What we really need is a system that gets rid of the bad legislators but leaves the good ones to serve.

After much study, I think I have come up with a plan.

I call it: The Vote.

Under my plan, all citizens over the age of 18 would be allowed to vote.

If a citizen felt a member of Congress had done a bad job, the citizen would cast a vote for the challenger.

But -- and this is the beauty of my plan -- if the citizen felt the member of Congress had done a good job, the citizen would cast a vote for the incumbent.

I know my system has flaws.

Under my system, all power is placed in the hands of the people. The people get a choice every two years in the case of the House and every six years in the case of the Senate.

Proponents of term limits do not like my system. They would rather make the choice for the people.

Instead of letting the people decide in each election, term limits forbid voters from making choices after a certain number of elections.

I suspect a lot of fans of term limits are lazy people who do not bother to vote at all. (More than half of the electorate does not vote in congressional elections.)

And because they are too lazy to study issues or people, they want a system that rewards their laziness:

They want a system that sweeps people away without the voters having to bother to lift a finger.

But anything that takes power away from the people makes me && deeply suspicious.

The Founding Fathers agreed. While term limits had been placed in the Articles of Confederation, they were removed when it came time to write a Constitution.

One reason might have been a fear that an inexperienced, constantly rotating Congress would shift too much power to the president.

And today, there are other powers to worry about: With a constantly shifting Congress, the staff and the lobbyists will hold the real power on Capitol Hill. And neither of them is elected or beholden to the people in any way.

Who else would benefit from term limits?

Those getting congressional pensions.

Members of Congress can retire with full pensions at age 62 after having served only five years.

Under term limits, we will get a whole bunch of members who will serve their six years and retire to draw fat pensions to be replaced with another wave of legislators who will do the same and on and on and on.

The term-limits people say their plan has one huge advantage over mine.

They say there are thousands of talented, honest people out there who can go to Washington and remain uncorrupted. And we are going to need thousands, because we are going to keep replacing them.

But my question is this:

If we have so many talented, smart and uncorruptible people in this country willing to serve in public office, where have they been keeping themselves?

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