August 25, 2011

We must be the adults…

Posted in Between Us column, Politics at 6:49 pm by dinaheng

When I was in junior high school, I had a secret desire to be Student Council president. Being an Asian-American female in a majority white school, however, I knew I’d never get elected. So I ran for Student Council Treasurer (or was it Secretary?) and won.

It was fun having the illusion of being in a powerful position, even though we knew that the adults really ran the school and could veto anything we did before we thought to do it. While we could debate any issue we liked, the adults kept us aware that we weren’t really the ones in charge.

In many ways, we’ve failed as adults to do this with our elected officials. We send lots of mixed messages about what we want, and then we get mad when we don’t get everything we want.

It’s time for rational people to tell Congress that their job is to make the kind of decisions that will fix the economy and build bridges between a divided electorate, not just posture and pontificate over their differences. Taking back our country is not a matter of fighting political battles — it’s a matter of working together to solve common problems.

An interesting chain letter floating through cyberspace hit my in-box this week. I don’t know who originally wrote it, but like most political proposals, it has both valid points and ideas that not based on fact. I’ve tucked some observations in parentheses after some of the  points.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever worked…

The 26th Amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months and 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971… before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc.

Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven took one year or less to become the law of the land… all because of public pressure. This is one idea that really should be passed around.

Congressional Reform Act of 2011

1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

2. Congress — past, present and future — participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

(Members of Congress are already required to participate in Social Security. They receive retirement and health benefits under the same plans available to other federal employees, and pay a percentage of their salary into the Federal Employees’ Retirement System and in Social Security taxes. Those elected prior to 1984 were covered by the Civil Service Retirement System. I could see moving Congressional members out of the FERS, but would keep the fund itself intact for federal employees until Social Security as a whole is examined and resolved.)

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3 percent.

(In actuality, pay raises in Congress are automatic under the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990, so Congress must act in order to prevent cost-of-living raises from taking effect. Members froze their pay at 2009 levels for 2010, and President Obama signed a bill preventing cost-of-living adjustments from taking effect during fiscal year 2011.)

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

(Congressional members are allowed to purchase private health insurance offered through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which covers other federal employees, retirees and their families. It’s not a government-run program and it’s not free. Like many large companies, however, the government pays a large share of the cost of coverage, and many members don’t want to disclose that they participate in these plans while they campaign against similar health care options for the rest of us.)

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.”

I totally agree that serving in Congress is an honor. Whether it’s a career anyone could  succeed at is another matter.

Leadership roles are assumed in many ways. Some people are elected to political office. Others are appointed to positions because of their political savvy. Some take charge when no one else will.

Clearly, the nation is getting fed up with a dysfunctional legislature. If we are to hold Congress accountable for its actions, then we must be the adults and remind the politicians — and each other — of this reality…

To solve any problem, we must all work together.

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