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Issue Position: Fundamental Reform of the Legislative Branch

Issue Position

Location: Unknown

Part-Time Citizen Congress, Accountability, and Transparency

When the first Congress convened in 1789 following the ratification of the Constitution, federal lawmakers were paid $6 a day, and an annual salary of $1,500 was not authorized until 1815. Had Congressional salaries merely risen with inflation, a member of Congress today would make less than $20,000 each year. Instead, annual Congressional salaries have risen almost 10 times faster than inflation and now total $174,000 -- more than 3.5 times higher than the country's median household income of $49,445 in 2010.

To add insult to injury, last year Washington, D.C., was crowned as the nation's highest-income metropolitan region -- beating out Silicon Valley and New York City -- fueled mainly by its army of "attorneys, consultants, lobbyists, and outside government contractors."

Part-Time Citizen Congress:

Last year, Congress appropriated for itself more than $5.8 billion, or nearly $11 million per lawmaker. The legislative branch has more than doubled its own budget since 2000, despite the fact that the number of senators and congressmen has remained exactly the same for more than 50 years. But while Congress more than doubled its own budget, the median household income of those who fund the government increased by only 17.3 percent, from $42,148 in 2000 to $49,445 in 2010. At the same time, the incomes of American families were unable to even keep pace with inflation.

The U.S. does not need a full-time Congress that is more focused on increasing its perks instead of reducing spending. America needs a part-time, Citizen Congress -- populated with those who choose to serve not for profit, or for the promise of a high-paying lobbyist job, but for the good of their communities, states, and the nation. Even with a 50 percent pay-cut, Congressional members would still make a significantly higher income than the average American. By changing the way Congress operates, and moving towards a part-time legislature, Congressman will have the freedom to live in their communities, engage their constituents, and truly speak for the people they represent. Rules preventing members of Congress from holding private sector jobs must also be repealed. -- When lawmakers hold the same types of jobs as their constituents, they will gain a much greater understanding of how congressional laws impact the real world.
Slash Spending for Congressional Staff:

According to the Congressional Research Service, Congress employed more than 15,000 staffers as of 2009. In the Senate, the number of staff assigned to senators' personal offices has more than doubled since 1977; the number of so-called "leadership staff" more than quadrupled over the same time period. As the number of staffers grows, so does congressional involvement in nearly every aspect of the American economy.

To be sure, congressional offices can provide vital help to those whose Social Security benefits or passport applications fell through the cracks due to the bureaucratic incompetence of federal agencies. But if the Founding Fathers managed to draft the Declaration of Independence, direct the American Revolution, and author the U.S. Constitution without the assistance of thousands of paid staffers, then current lawmakers can find a way to get through the day with fewer personal assistants.

Criminalize Insider Trading by Members of Congress:

Just as private individuals are prohibited from making stock or bond trades based on inside information, members of Congress should be banned from trading on information about how congressional laws may impact financial markets.

A recent investigative report by 60 Minutes found that "Members of Congress and their aides have regular access to powerful political intelligence, and many have made well-timed stock market trades in the very industries they regulate." Convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff told CNBC that as many as a dozen members of Congress traded on inside information. One academic study found that the portfolios of lawmakers, most of whom are not professional investors or financial experts, outperformed the overall stock market by more than 6% a year. The Stock Act, which would prohibit Members of Congress and federal employees from profiting from nonpublic information they obtain via their official positions, has been introduced in every Congress since 2004. The act has yet to receive any consideration on either the House or Senate floor.

A lawmaker who plans to bailout a publicly traded corporation should not be allowed to use his or her inside information to purchase or short securities that will be directly affected by congressional action. If private individuals can be jailed or fined for trading on insider information, then lawmakers and their staff should be required to live under the same laws when it comes to legislative or regulatory inside information.
Expand the Freedom of Information Act:

Today, the Freedom of Information Act applies to the executive branch of the federal government, allowing individual Americans to request information on departments, agencies, and offices of the executive branch. However, despite regulations requiring responses within 20 days, FOIA request response time varies drastically. The law must be enforced, and extensions for FOIA requests must be the great exception, not the rule. In addition, under the current law, Congress and portions of the Executive Office of the President that function solely to advise and assist the President, are not subject to FOIA requests. The White House must be made accountable to taxpayers. FOIA must also be amended to apply to the legislative branch of the federal government -- Congress cannot ask the executive branch for more transparency and continue to conduct operations out of the public eye.

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