In the face of mounting anger over Washington spending and gridlock, U.S. Rep. Timothy V. Johnson today announced a groundbreaking new initiative to build a more responsive and far less costly Congress.
The Citizen Legislators Act could save up to $2 billion a year by cutting the days representatives spend in session, cutting their salaries in half, cutting their office budgets in half and allowing them to work jobs outside of public office.
"We go to Washington three weeks a month and spin our wheels butting heads over how to spend the taxpayers' money," Rep. Johnson said. "We vote on naming post offices and recognizing sports teams and hold news conferences to slam the other party. We are getting paid generous salaries to accomplish very little. Our country is broke, and we have earned every ounce of disapproval the public has shown for us.
"The Citizen Legislator Act may not be a perfect instrument in the eyes of Washington insiders, but it is a beginning step in righting the ship," Rep. Johnson said.
Specifically, the bill:
Limits days in session to five per month or 60 business days per session.
Halves the salary of Representatives and Senators.
Permits members to have jobs outside of Congress so long as they do not derive their income as a result of the privilege of their office, such as speaking tours, lobbying, consulting, etc.
Allows members to choose benefit plans to reflect their lower salaries and allows them to opt out completely for a private option.
Cuts member office allowances, committee and leadership budgets in half.
Prohibits any grandfathering out of the new salary requirements and benefit packages for current members.
Cuts member salaries an additional 10 percent for every five business days Congress exceeds 60 business days in a session.
Rep. Johnson said that in addition to saving time and forcing Congress to conduct itself with greater efficiency, these kinds of changes, while dramatic, would encourage a better quality of candidate for office.
"In the course of relentless growth in the bureaucracies of Washington, D.C., the idea of citizen legislators has become obsolete. We have a workforce of more than 30,000 people doing nothing but serving the legislative branch. We have become a privileged class, pampered and coddled on the taxpayers' dime. The quaint notion of government by the people and for the people has faded into an anachronism.
"I believe you can attract far more worthy people to office if you allow them to be able to work their professions in their off time, be with their families and live their lives if they are not constantly required to be in Washington accomplishing little, or on airplanes in the meantime.
"We can continue to spout soundbites about how one side or the other isn't getting things done, or we can take definitive action to show the American people that our campaign promises are not empty, that we truly are representatives of the people. I think the general public thinks many members of Congress think of themselves as a ruling class, an anointed elite that shares little of their daily worries and fears.
"Daniel Webster admonished us long ago of this when he said, "There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.'
"I am no one's master. I seek only the approval of those who have chosen me to represent them."