In case you hadn’t heard, the US Congressional approval rating just hit an all-time low. According to a recent NBC poll, the country’s approval rating of Congress just dropped again, to a measly 12%. It’s amazing that so few Americans have confidence in what the founding fathers had intended to be the most powerful branch of the US government.

Even more amazing, however, are the re-election rates of those very same members of Congress. Historically, congressional re-election rates are quite high. Normally hovering around 95% in fact.

What can we glean from this inconsistency? It appears that while the vast majority of people disapprove of Congress as a whole, an even larger majority doesn’t believe their representative is part of the problem. I know I don’t. My representative is ethical, responsive, resistant to special interests, and generally an all-around good public servant in my opinion. Perfect by no means, but acceptable in most ways. Or so I believe.

Nonetheless, Congress stinks. I know it; you know it; we see it every day in headlines and sound bites. Problems are either addressed too late, poorly, or left ignored altogether. It seems that the issues – OUR problems – are nothing more than opportunities for political jockeying by the key players in both power parties. When things like humans-Americans-losing their homes, their jobs, or their health insurance are used as nothing more than chances for politicians to display their political ideology, something is seriously wrong.

Well, I have a solution. What if we fired them all? What if every two years we fired each and every one of them? That’s right, 100% turnover in every congressional election.

After all, there are lots of causes lying behind this problem. One is political parties. When a party has the ability to issue marching orders to lawmakers, and the representatives in turn openly declare that no amount of contact from their constituency will sway their opinion, the entire idea of representative democracy has been demolished.

When in the midst of an economic crisis, 3 wars, and countless major problems, a member of party leadership openly states that their #1 priority is to make sure the president isn’t re-elected, how can we not be disgusted? Is that really what the people want out of Congress? Figureheads of one party or another uncompromisingly wield Committee seats, committee chairs, caucus politics, filibusters, and even the act of calling for a vote.

Political parties also serve as excuses for the populace to not vote for a particular, though worthy, candidate. If you are ideologically opposed to the Republican party, will you ever consider voting for a Republican? Even if she is responsive, forthright, and works with Democrats consistently? Probably not, simply because she is a Republican and will likely vote with her party, whom you disagree with.

Another problem, of course, is special interest money and the “need” for representatives to fund their re-election campaigns.
 Another problem is political career-building and the notion that one must be in the house for numerous sessions to occupy seats on certain committees, and even then must wait to be heard until other, more senior members have steered the committee in their chosen direction.

All of these factors actually propel our Congress towards stagnancy; encouraging our lawmakers to behave like rotten spoiled children who do not want to play well with others, do not want to clean up their messes, and refuse to leave the playground long after it was appropriate to do so.

Now pretend that every member of Congress knew that at the end of their current term, they were going to be sent packing. Suddenly many of those contributing factors evaporate. Think about some of the benefits:

Campaign Funding Eliminated from the Priority List

An acquaintance of mine served one term in Congress. He said he liked the policy aspects of the job. And for every minute he spent on crafting policy, he had spent an hour raising funds for his next election. He hated that. He said that he had to raise roughly $50,000 each week he was in office to shore up his next campaign.

If there were no reason to fund another election (because they’re going to get fired), less time (if any) would be spent fundraising. Leaving considerably more time to work on passing sound policy.

Party Power Dissolves

If you’ve only got two years to get something done in Congress, you’re going to do anything you can to pass good policies. Which means when your party tells you to stall a bill, or vote against something that you are actually for, you’re more likely to tell them to go pound sand since this is your only shot to get it done. Especially since you won’t be counting on party funding for your re-election campaign!

This, in turn, opens the door for more parties to be represented in Congress (such as Libertarians, Greens, Progressives, Reformers and so on) giving our diverse populace a more diverse Congress than the current one-or-the-other choice.

Eliminates Special Interest Influence

Once there’s no hope for re-election, there’s no need for all of those meetings with special interests in exchange for donations and PAC support. Big business, unions, lawyers, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, defense contractors, they all can go screw because the reps are no longer for sale.

Speeds Committee Hierarchy

With an entirely new Congress every session, there is no seniority to be discussed in regards to committee seats and Chairs. Every committee, every session would be full of fresh new faces and ideas and people who want to move along bills as quickly as possible.

Encourages multi-partisanship

With only one term to work in, you’re going to scramble for as much support from as many representatives as possible. The “party-aisle” divide would become a thing of the past as lawmakers who agree on a given issue would no longer be punished by their own party for working with members of the other, mostly because the party could no longer hold re-election funds over their heads.

Prevents Career Politicians

One term only, need I say more?

Eliminates “Do as I say, not as I do” legislation

Throughout history, Congress has passed legislation that includes special exceptions or protections for members of Congress. If you know you’re going to be a civilian again in two years, you’ll be less likely to enact negative legislation that will be affecting you as well in a short while.

Is closer to true democracy

More individuals would serve in Congress over a given period of time. Therefore more ideas, and experiences, and backgrounds and ethnicities would be represented, which would better represent our diverse population and therefore be closer to true democracy.

So how can we accomplish this? Well, obviously we’re talking about a great idea in theory, with very little chance of becoming reality. But it is possible. So I’ll examine some of the ways this can come about.

I hear a lot of people talking about instituting term limits. But seeing as how it would take the support of most of the members of Congress to essentially fire themselves, well, let’s just say the chances of that passing are about as good as a bill to ban breathing. But who knows? With these stooges anything is possible.

But sure, let’s contact our representatives and ask them to introduce and support a bill imposing term limits on congress. Not more than one term for senators (6 years) and no more than two terms for representatives. Realizing, of course, it’ll be more like 3 terms for senators and 8 terms for representatives.

But barring any action by an already incompetent Congress, it appears the only feasible options we’re left with must be driven by us, the voters.

Does this mean you instantly have to vote for a candidate from a party you fundamentally disagree with? Maybe, but not necessarily. First and foremost, you could vote for a non-incumbent in a primary election.

Of course, not many people choose to challenge incumbents in primaries. But you could encourage someone to run against the incumbent at a local level, using letters to the editor or a grassroots organization to make it known that a change is desired from within the party. Or you can always run as a candidate yourself.

And finally, perhaps you can contact your current legislator about this idea and tell them that you are planning on voting against them as an incumbent. Tell them why. Tell them that it’s the only way to encourage representatives to work quickly, for the people, and with all members of the body, regardless of party.

Consider voting against the incumbent in the next congressional election. It could be the start of a movement.

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