Thursday, February 26, 2009

So much paper, so few people to read it

The following is a position paper of The Jacksonian Party.

The United States has a problem with the House of Representatives: it cannot be bothered to have members read the bills that are drafted by their staff.

Truly a 1,500 page budget document is a lot to read in 24 hours or less: more than a Chronicles of Thomas Covenant or the Dune Trilogy save without characters while our House is filled with all sorts of characters.  And the only plot involved is to have an upper political echelon's staff write such a thing.  Thus, with the plot obvious, the characters lacking in substance, we get a tiny group putting in everything their hearts have desired in the way of spending and call it 'stimulus'.

Currently there are 435 members of the US House of Representatives, which is just over 3 pages per member.  Even a working group of ten members would knock that down to 150 pages per member.  And that working group would need to be dedicated to the task of reading and reporting the basics of each line item and summarizing them.  For most Americans that would be too much to ask, reading a novel length piece of legislation in a day.  What is lacking, then, is not commitment to a job, but the inability of even a like-minded small subset of the House to go through legislation and examine it.  When given a home mortgage contract to read, can you actually sit down and read through each and every piece of paper that is put in front of you?

No, you can't unless you are a speed reader and willing to spend an hour or so going through it.  And then you would find most of it is dull, cut and dried text that carries through on the basic outline given at the start of the document.  Congress does not do that, either, save that with this the document is a bit more than you get for a home mortgage contract and helps to run the Nation.  Even with a spouse and helpful family members, you couldn't divide that contract down to something that people would sit through your reading and affirming that each part is properly in order.  Congress is working at a different scale and each member should have time to at least get the entire overview of a document and then check out details that are of interest to them.

This problem requires a scaled solution.

It requires a larger US House of Representatives.

Consider the Maximum Allowable House with one representative for every 30,000 citizens.  That gets you to a House of nearly 10,000 members.  The current Congress plus the staff it allows itself, permanent and part time, when divided into the population of the United States comes out at just a bit higher than that.  The problem with the staff is that they don't vote, they aren't elected, and they answer to a House member.  Their independent input is limited as they do not represent YOU but the district you are in, which averages out to about 500,000 per representative.  Your chance of knowing much about your representative is only 1:500,000 unless you are a friend or family member, this person is basically anonymous to you: you cannot know all of their positions, their character, their values and if they actually understand your community where you *live*.  Your chance of having your voice or perspective heard is, essentially, nil, as is that of the local neighborhood you live in.

At this size the US Congress gets staff to put its bills together, staff to read them, staff to report on them and then they vote on what the STAFF has made.  That is government of, by and for the staff of the US House of Representatives.  The ills of this are too numerous to recount: unaccountable House members, overly complex bills, overly complex laws, huge increases in regulation put in place by those that look to get permanent jobs in the government or private industry based on such regulations and a staff that depends upon the character, ethics and morals of the US House member they work for.  Which you have none too good an idea of, because all you get are commercials and 'franked' pieces of mail churned out at the public's expense so that you can learn what a good job your representative is doing... and it is always a good job, isn't it?  Not a fair review by local citizens then printed up to give you a report card based on locality.  Of course those circulars are also done by the member's staff, so saying anything bad about your employer might just have a problem getting done.

Congress then goes on to exempt itself of the health, safety, wage rate and other labor laws it has put in place.  Indeed, many laws have exemptions for Congress, so that they are not burdened by the same thing that all other employers are burdened by.  That is all very well and good for the Senate, which needs a personal staff as each member is half the representation for a State, but the House members are in the position of being exempted employers unlike any others in their district.  And if a member chooses to ignore the impact of those laws upon others?  Well how do you start a way to unseat such a miscreant when they are paying off other sections of the population with 'earmarks' and other forms of payments to contributors, advocacy groups, lobbyists and activists?  These groups become beholden to their own welfare depending upon the House member, not upon good governance for the Nation.  That is done with the public's money being kicked back to politicians, political parties or activists actively campaigning in a partisan manner.  Activists bring in outsiders to swell their size during confrontation, so as to puff them up to look larger than they are.  Lobbyists kick money back from contracts and ensure the House members are wined, dined and junketed, for which a pittance has to be paid back for luxury accommodations by those same House members.

We have a term to put to a class that considers itself above the general population, fit to hand out public funds for personal purposes and gains, and to impoverish the Nation and not do their jobs of ensuring the Nation's safety:  Aristocrats.  While America has no King it does have an Aristocratic class that has members from the same family appear year after year after year for decades and they begin to feel 'entitled' to those seats of representation.  This gets passed on from one member of the family to the next, and would not be so bad at 1:30,000 but at 1:500,000 and *growing* that is horrific as it gives a sense of entitlement over a half-million citizens or *more*.

The purpose of the House was to be the place where the Public could have its full and chaotic voice heard in the land and be tempered by their State based opposites.  These States are now equal to or better represented by population size in the Senate than the US House:  Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Delaware and Vermont with 1 House member each and Hawaii, Idaho, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine with 2 House members each.  At 12 States that is 24% of the United States that is in that under-represented condition. 

This is a very sorry position for a representative democracy running a republic to be in: where nearly a quarter of the Nation has muted voice due to the limitations put in by Congress on its size.  Is there truly no diversity of thought, opinion and how to govern in these 12 States?  If we depend on the good ideas for governance to come up from the lowest ranks so as to be examined by the Nation, then that is not *just* the Governors of States but the Mayors of small towns and cities, too.  The way to run a diverse Nation is to have good ideas from all scales of government brought out and examined so that good ones may be passed on and poor ones sidelined.  What we have, instead, is an Aristocratic class that requires adhering to its rules of operation and TO HELL with how everyone else wants to run their lives.  These Aristocrats soon tell us to eat cake during hard times, not knowing that their dainty snacks are not available to the common man.  A Nation founded on principles of representation deserve to have all walks of life, all areas of its domain heard so that the entire Nation can know of itself and adjust to that diverse way of life it has.

The warnings from the Founding Era are clear:  a strong federal government will impoverish the States, demean the citizenry and feel itself above the Nation, not a part of it.  Many on the Anti-Federalist side worried that a House of Representatives that could set its own size would do so to the detriment of the diversity of the Nation as it was THEN.  One put forth the entirely proper federalist argument that the House proportion needs to be set by the People, not by the government so as to act as a check and balance on federal power from the People *directly*.  That very good idea was lost by those who could not conceive that a Congress would ever set a FIXED SIZE to the House.  That was contrary to all tenets of representational democracy into a federal system in a republic.  It was, indeed, a requirement that Congress morph in shape and size to fit a growing Nation so that increased diversity of population and thought could be heard throughout the land.  In 1911 Congress thought otherwise and fixed the size of the House to 435 members.

Now we have the appearance of Tea Parties as Congress spends our money on ill-thought out schemes pushed through by authoritarian means so as to not permit anyone to actually read a bill that they are voting upon.  A bill that was drafted by no member, but by their staffs.  And if we know very little about each House member, then we know *nothing* about their staff.  If you are to elect a staff to make laws for the Nation, then at least we should know who the hell they are... and VOTE ON THEM.  So that they are accountable to us, not to a representative who is barely known by any in their district.

This might slow down the Congress a bit and make it take time to read and argue over bills.

It might even delay getting a budget done... until some wiseacre says the damned thing is too large and a few slacker upstarts start to put a smaller budget together so there is less work to do.  You don't need 'fiscal hawks' but average, lazy, US Citizens to want smaller bills in Congress.  And a few dedicated members to getting *that* done could also have their voices heard... which is a damned sight more than happens now.

Cumbersome representation isn't a *bug* in representative democracy for a federal republic: it is a FEATURE.

It is only once the House started to become distant from the people in their districts did they start to realize they could ignore what was good for the district and do what was good for *them*.

Efficient legislatures are the hallmark of every authoritarian regime looking to give a surface patina one molecule thick to their regime.

This Congress has been very efficient at passing the largest spending packages *ever* that now dwarf all of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and Katrina relief for SEVEN YEARS.  And they are looking to spend lots more... it is extremely efficient.

For those who have argued that you want an efficient Congress: you have gotten your wish.

Representative democracy in a federal system to guide a republic is *supposed* to be slow, messy, constantly bickering and having members eyeing each other with suspicion over spending so that no one gets more goodies than anyone else.  That isn't happening anymore as there aren't enough eyeballs and critics inside Congress to derail legislation that is a clear monetary power grab by the government.  It is strange that those crowing for 'diversity' want it everywhere save in the House of Representatives.

The place that was supposed to be diverse.

And that, my fellow Americans, is an authoritarian agenda to push down the beliefs of the few, the Aristocrats, upon the Nation.  And like the last Tea Party, this set will now start to bring out the ills of the Aristocrats and they will move to repress that because they no longer feel beholden to the people of the Nation.  They have forgotten that America was born of a Revolution.

Aristocrats didn't do so well then.

They never do when they get the Revolution they have been clearly asking for.

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