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Dreaming of a Part-Time Congress

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I am by no means a big Rick Perry fan, and readily acknowledge his frequent debate gaffes have relegated him to also-ran status in the battle of attrition that is the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

But there is an idea of his I find interesting that I would love to see receive more attention.

Perry is an advocate of a part-time, “citizen” Congress, as he says was intended all along by our nation’s founding fathers. He points to how Texas has a state legislature that is limited by the Texas Constitution to being in session for a maximum of 140 calendar days every other year. State legislators in Texas make $600 per month, or $7,200 per year, plus a per diem of $150 for every day in session. That adds up to $28,200 a year for a regular session (140 days).

Now surely the 140 days every other year is completely unrealistic for the U.S. Congress, which can’t seem to get anything done despite full-time status. Still, I can’t help but feel a bit sympathetic toward the reasoning for a part-time Congress, where our elected representatives would actually have to hold down private sector jobs and live under the laws they pass. Here are a couple of paragraphs about the idea from Perry’s own campaign website:

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, Congressmen 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.

While a part-time, citizen Congress has about as much chance of happening as Tim Tebow breaking Brett Favre’s all-time passing yards record, it’s a nice break from reality to think about it once in a while during a time period when Congress has a lowest-ever approval rating from Americans.

And when in session, they would have no time to waste on bad-idea, go-nowhere proposals, such as taxing the inside buildup of life insurance and annuity policies.