The US Congress maintains an abysmal public approval rating. This is reflected also in the low ratings for the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader. These levels cannot be good for the relationship of citizens to their government nor to the country as a whole. I therefore propose the following 11-point plan that the Congress would pass as legislation that would APPLY TO ITSELF. A sure sign of the problem we face is the overwhelming unwillingness of the Congress to even consider any such measures of self-accountability.
close reading of these initiatives reveals that Congress and it's
leaders would still be free to do and say everything they do and say
presently only it would be done openly and could therefore be
reviewed by their employers -- the American people. The adoption
of some of these ideas would be helpful, the adoption of them all
would do much to restore confidence in government and shift the
balance of power in Washington back to the hands of it's rightful
owners, that of the people. These measures are unlikely to be
opposed by honest politicians -- wonder if there are any left?
Issue to all Members of Congress a cell phone provided by their
state. These cells phones will be recorded at all times and all
non-personal conversations will be released after 7 days (or some
reasonable period of time).
Since the Congress works for the American public, we have the right to oversee their activities. Just as private employers can review Email and other forms of employee communications so to can the conversations of our elected officials be monitored. Should usage be accumulated by persons other that the intended Member (or the phone be unused), a report would be made to the ethics committee. Personal calls (family, etc.) would not be released.
2) Create a "pool" reporter system such that one of several rotating media people accompany the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader at all times during their entire legislative day (including traveling, meetings, etc.). The media pool stories would be released after 3-7 days.
The power of the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader to control agendas, make deals, influence other members, and strongly force agreement on certain policy issues exceeds what the founders intended and what is good for the republic. This measure would insure an accurate and full picture of the actions and words (and any threats or promises) of the Congressional "leadership" be documented and made available to the American people. This shouldn't be a problem for anyone as I'm sure that their "Yes" is always yes and "No" is no regardless of with whom they are speaking. Having the media shadow these two figures would cut down on inappropriate 'party' business at the expense of the People's business.
3) All members of Congress release their tax returns annually.
The ability of Congress to enrich themselves during their tenure should not be tolerated. This measure will illuminate any examples of this occurring.
4) Require all bills scheduled for a vote in Congress to first receive a separate 'Constitutional Authority' vote.
All members of Congress take an oath to defend the Constitution but rarely is a Constitutional context given for the measures which they consider. Requiring a recorded vote on whether a bill is Constitutional would shift more importance back to this bedrock document, force lawmakers to consider it's precepts more openly and thoughtfully, and capture their positions on this important question.
5) Require all bills considered by Congress to contain an accurate executive summary listing it's impacts and implications, the possible intended and potential unintended consequences (possible side effects) that the legislation might promote. The summary would include the names, affiliations, and organizations of everyone that wrote/provided the actual wording of the legislation (any portion more than 5% of the whole).
The recent games regarding the handling of Health Care, Omnibus Spending , Stimulus, and Cap-and-Trade legislation including inappropriate measures such as voting on unfinished bills, last minute huge amendments, voting on legislation without having had the opportunity to even read it, and concealing the actual intent and wording of the bills themselves demonstrates that the current transparency level on actual bill contents is much too low. If Congress cannot prepare an 10-20 page executive summary accurately describing a 2000 page bill, should they even be entrusted to complete the larger bill?
6) 72 hr waiting period prior to chamber votes on any bills coming out of committee or from a Joint House/Senate conference.
The need for the American people and for the Congress members themselves to evaluate legislation requires that some time exist to digest and consider the details of bills prior to voting.
7) No more earmarks in any bills.
Earmarks are generally local projects and as such are not Constitutional (as they neither affect Interstate commerce nor contribute to the 'General Welfare'). They are also used to buy off Congress members and to protect members from their constituents. For these reasons they should simply be eliminated (or at least legislated in bills similar in topic to the earmark).
No more district specific spending allowed on sitting
Incumbent Congressional members often advertise district (or State) specific actions in order to curry favor with voters. This practice is not one available to challengers and should be eliminated.
9) No partisan executive branch meetings with Legislative branch leaders. Discussions between the Executive Branch and Congress must include members of both parties.
Back-room deals are a common and clear path to selfish and corrupt practices and do not contribute to transparency and accountability at all. Who can claim that the current health care deal-making being conducted behind closed doors and involving only Democrats are representative of ALL the people? If the Executive Branch is allowed to meet and plan with ONLY members of his/her party from the Congress then Separation of Powers is violated and inappropriate collusion and secret agreements are taking place . Simply allowing members of the other party to be present would introduce a needed honesty to the entire process.
10) All Congressional leadership submit to a weekly press conference where they can be questioned about their activities.
Again the powers and influence concentrated in the Congressional leadership requires that they frequently and effectively commit to their plans and principles in a public forum. The media represented in such press conferences should be rotated and weighted toward those not part of the Washington establishment.
11) Make conference committee work to combine disparate House and Senate bills available to the public via broadcasts (like C-Span) or via media presence during this important negotiations.
The conference committee work has often been used to introduce measures without sufficient review or evaluation. These are often difficult to remove as the political pressures to pass the larger bill allow this undesirable parts to be carried along. Making this process public would improve public confidence in the process.