Put Up or Shut Up Bill
(Investigations into Public Officials)
Our public officials are not immune from the pressures of life and the pressures to engage in illegal, or immoral, activities. Due to their positions of power and prominence, they may be at more of a risk to succumb to the pressures to act in undesirable ways. When this occurs, we need to be able to properly investigate the matter and deal with the official and the situation in a manner that is fair to everyone and restores the public trust in our governmental institutions.
However, when doing investigations into political officials, the investigations tend to go on for excessive lengths of time, are expensive, and rarely results in convictions or removal of the public official from office. During that lengthy investigation, the public becomes deeply divided on whether the public official being investigated is guilty. It serves to divide our nation, uses our limited resources (time and money), and all for nothing, especially when the public official is not punished (innocence or let off the hook).
When doing investigations, we need to ensure that the investigating authority has all the funds needed to employ as many investigators as they need. However, it must always to limited in scope and must have a 12-month time frame. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution demands that we not suspend a person in limbo indefinitely. It states “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial”.
Although the speedy trial clause doesn’t attach until a person is indicted, the reasoning is the same. When faced with a potential criminal act, we must act decisively and quickly to bring the matter to a resolution, in order to restore public trust and provide fairness to everyone involved.
By limiting the time frame of such an investigation, we are focused on finding the truth and finding it quickly, so the American people can enjoy resolution to the suspicions, whether that resolution involves an indictment or a finding of insufficient evidence to indict.
No Pay for Failure
When Congress fails to do its job of agreeing on a budget, the government goes into a shutdown. Most of the government employees are classified as “essential and necessary”, which means that they are required to still go to work during the shutdown. However, they do not receive their paychecks during the shutdown. Usually, they receive “back pay” once the shutdown ends, so it ends up working out in the end. However, those employees’ lives are in turmoil during the shutdown.
My husband used to work for the federal government and was considered “essential and necessary”, requiring him to work during a shutdown. One such shutdown occurred FOUR days after we closed on our home. Unpacking our home came to a screeching halt because we feared we could miss our first mortgage payment. After all, some were talking that it could last for months. Luckily, it ended rather quickly (3 weeks). But, we were terrified. Another situation occurred on a Friday night when I was making our grocery list to go shopping the next morning. A late night vote was taking place after 10pm to see if Congress would fund the government for 1 week or shut down. I sat on my couch, watching CSPAN, with 2 grocery lists in front of me. One was a regular list (in case the shutdown did NOT occur). The other list had only milk, bread, eggs, mac-n-cheese, and Roman noodles (in case the shutdown occurred). The decision taking place in Congress that night would determine which list I could take to the store and how I could feed my family.
This is real! Shutdowns do affect real people. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are affected, along with their spouses and children. But while regular Americans are struggling through a shutdown, the members of Congress are still getting their paychecks.
Many people cite Article I, Section 6 of the United States Constitution to claim that Congressional paychecks cannot be suspended during a shutdown. That section, the modification by the 27th Amendment, and no other part of the United States Constitution specifically talks about government shutdowns, let alone the continuation of Congressional Pay during a shutdown. It can be argued that since the 27th Amendment requires changes in Congressional Pay to not take effect until the following term (after an election), Congressional pay cannot be withheld.
However, this is not about a change in pay. This is a suspension in pay. What incentive do Senators and Representatives have to work together to agree to a budget? If their pay is being suspended, they are much more likely to eat some crow and start working together to get their job done.
Fitness to Serve
As members of Congress age, many citizens become concerned whether the Senator or Representative is in good enough health to actually serve. Our older members of Congress possess a wealth of wisdom, knowledge, and experience, making them very valuable to the entire Legislative body. However, the human body and mind tends to deteriorate as we age. We need of members of Congress at their best.
To balance the benefits and problems of an aging Congressional population, we need to be able to assess their health. Since people physically age at very different rates, age alone is not indicative of physical or mental health. This bill would require that all members of Congress submit to an annual physical and mental health evaluation to continue to serve. Once the member of Congress reaches the age of 65, the annual physical and mental health evaluation would take place every 6 months.
If at any time the Senator or Representative is found to not meet the physical and/or mental health qualifications to continue to serve, a Special Election would be held within 6 months to replace the incumbent. However, the Incumbent would be allowed to continue to serve until the new Senator or Representative is able to be sworn in. This will ensure that the seat is not left vacant.
The qualifications and standards will be set by Congress, with the assistance of military and civilian medical and mental health experts, to ensure that the standards and qualifications are fair to the members of Congress and the American people.
Candidates: Once the bill is enacted, the physical and mental health evaluation would be required for any candidate for the United States House of Representatives or United States Senate. For candidates, the only results released to the public would be the overall recommendations of the doctors evaluating the candidate, stating either “fit to serve” or “questionable fitness to serve” without divulging protected, private health information .
Current Members of Congress: This legislation would apply to all CURRENT members of Congress. For an elected member of Congress, more details may be given, such as a specific reason. The reason for this difference is because the candidate who is still a private citizen (and may not win the election) still has the same “expectation of privacy” and everyone else. Once elected, the Senator or Representative loses some of that “expectation of privacy”.
Federal Funds Accountability Bill
Congress has the responsibility of determining how much of our federal money is paid out and to which entities that money will go. However, since Congress authorizes federal funds to be allocated to various entities, Congress needs to know how that money is being spent. Congress does not need to keep track of every penny, but they should be aware if the money is being used for the purpose that it was given. For instance, if $20,000,000 was authorized for a particular purpose, the receiving agency should have to prove how much of that went to companies to do the intended work, how much went to labor, how much went to materials, how much went to administrative costs, and so on.
We cannot allow recipients of federal funds to take the money, cut corners, and pocket the rest. Congress has a responsibility to the American people to be great stewards of the people’s money. By extension, the entities receiving federal funds (taxpayer money) need to prove that they are also great stewards of the American citizens’ money. Congress is in the best position to provide a check on these entities receiving federal funds.
These entities would be required to provide monthly balance sheets to Congress detailing how the money is being spent, copies of contracts with any contractors, and a breakdown showing how much was paid for labor, materials, wages, and administrative costs.
Post-Employment Lobbying Ban
Currently, there is a two-year post-employment lobbying ban on former members of the United States Senate and a one-year post-employment lobbying ban on former members of the United States House of Representatives. These bans are designed to make sure members of Congress cannot utilize their positions of power and relationships (with other members of Congress) that they have built during their time in Congress to later lobby those “friends” to pass bills that would favor and/or personally benefit that former member of Congress.
These bans do not go far enough. A one-year or two-year ban does not hinder former members much. Members of Congress should have a 10-year ban on post-employment lobbying.
If we are able to pass this bill, coupled with passing the term limit bill, this will severely hamper former members from being able to effectively lobby their former colleagues.
If a member of Congress serves Jan. 2019 - Dec. 2020, he or she would be banned from lobbying through Dec. 2030. By Jan. 2031, the members of Congress that the former member worked with in 2019-2020, would have expired their term limits and would not be in Congress anymore.
With these two bills, corruption in Washington can be seriously hampered, allowing members of Congress to better represent their respective constituents, rather than the interests of lobbyists.
 United States Senate, Select Committee on Ethics, Guidance on the Post-Employment Contact Ban, May 24, 2012, https://www.ethics.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=bf9ea0f9-2593-4f49-83b3-f581f86b9098, accessed February 2, 2019.
 United States House of Representatives, Committee on Ethics, Post-Employment Restrictions, https://ethics.house.gov/outside-employment-income/post-employment-restrictions, accessed February 2, 2019.
Congressional Honesty, Integrity, and Reliability Bill
All members of Congress are elected by his or her respective constituents. Those constituents put their trust in their respective Representatives and Senators. Our government cannot survive if that trust is eroded.
In order to achieve, and maintain, the highest level of trust in our elected members of Congress, it is imperative that our members of Congress be held to the highest level of honesty, integrity, and reliability. Each member of Congress is required to ensure that his or her public statements (written, internet, radio, television, streaming, social media, etc.) are truthful.
If a member of Congress knowingly makes a false statement publicly, he or she will be immediately suspended from any House or Senate votes for 30 days, pending an investigation into the statements. Within the 60 day suspension, a public hearing before the opposite chamber of Congress will convene and render a decision as to the validity of the accusations.
If the accused member is found to NOT have knowingly made false statements, he or she will be removed from suspension. If the accused member is found to have knowingly made false statements publicly, the accused member will resign within 24 hours of the decision and a special election will be held within 3 months for a replacement.
Congress Is a JOB
(Not a Lifelong Career)
Legislating can be a long, drawn-out process. However, it should not take a person 20, 30, 40, or more years to accomplish their goals as a Senator or Representative. If you have been in Congress for more than 10 years and you haven’t gotten your bills through Congress, either your bills are bad (why no one supports them), or you are ineffective as a Senator or Representative (couldn’t convince your colleagues to support your bills). It’s a pretty good sign that you should probably go back home and let someone else give legislating a try.
This nation is supposed to be a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. This means that we are supposed to be ruled by normal, regular, everyday citizens, not an elite class of politicians. We need to stop the establishment of a “political class”, that refuses to pass the torch of power. Serving in Congress is supposed to be a duty, much like jury duty. It is not supposed to be a lifetime career.
Term limits will not solve all of the “elitist” type of issues we have with Congress, but it will help to keep Congress from getting too far removed from the people they serve. Only one limit needs to be imposed. “No more than 12 years of service in Congress (combined between House and Senate).” This can be a full 12 in the House, a full 12 years in the Senate, OR time in each chamber, not to exceed 12 years combined.
This ensures that we have a continuous flow of new people stepping up to serve our nation, shape of our nation, and move our nation forward. Plus, when someone knows that he or she only has 12 years to achieve his or her goals in Congress, he or she will be less likely to drag his or her feet. From the day he or she is sworn in, the clock is ticking. Get it done or go home. There would be a stronger incentive to get moving to get the job done.
Balanced Budget Bill
Our national debt continues to climb higher and higher. This is a major stain on our nation. If we do not get this under control, we will eventually get to a point where it will be impossible to reverse. At that point, the only option will be to declare bankruptcy. The devastating impact would make the Great Depression look like a hiccup. Considering we, as a nation, lead the world in economics, the resulting catastrophe would sweep the globe. We have a responsibility to our citizens, our future generations of citizens, and to the world to exercise financial restraint and be excellent stewards of the taxpayers money.
It is time to demand that Congress present an annual budget that is well within the means of its income. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections for FY 2019 (as of January 28, 2019) projected that the United States would have $3.5 Trillion in “Revenues” (income), but have $4.4 Trillion in “Outlays” (Expenses), resulting in a Deficit of $897 Billion. This is utterly unacceptable!
We do not need a budget that is merely budgeted. We need a positive growth budget. Just like you do not budget for your household right down to the exact penny, the federal government should not either. We need a “buffer” to deal with all those “unexpected” expenses that creep up during the year. I believe that “buffer” should be 10% of the Expected Revenue. Let’s see how this would play out with the CBO projections for FY 2019, if the Balanced Budget Act was in effect:
Buffer: $ 350,000,000,000
Budget (Outlays) $3,150,000,000,000
There’s Congress’s limit - $3.15 Trillion! Period! Congress cannot go even 1 penny over that. But, how can they keep it under that amount? This is where the fun begins. When the initial budget is more than 90% of the Revenue, the difference is calculated. In this example, the CBO shows estimated Outlays as $4.4 Trillion. This would be $1.25 Trillion Excess. Congress will need to shave $1.25 Trillion. This is where the arguments begin and where things usually go horribly wrong. To prevent an impasse, we need an organized system to whittle it down.
Slash that figure in half to get the amount that EACH chamber (House and Senate) must slash from the budget. In our example, that would be $625 Billion from each chamber of Congress. We also must know the percentage of the members represented by each party in each chamber. Working with the 2019 numbers, the House has 235 Democrats (54.1%) and 199 Republicans (45.9%). This shows us how much the House Democrats will have to whittle from their preferred budget items (this means that stuff they wanted included in the budget). The Democrats have to cut 54.1% of the House’s $625 Billion Overspending, or $338.125 Billion. The Republicans would have to cut 45.9% of the House’s $625 Billion Overspending from their preferred budget items (the stuff they want), or $286.875 Billion.
The same calculations would happen for the Senate, so that Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans would each whittle away their preferred budget items based on their share of the Senate. The Senate would have to cut $625 Billion. Since there are 53 Republicans (53%) and 47 Democrats (2 of them are Independents that “caucus” with the Democrats) (47%), the Senate Republicans must cut 53% from their preferred items and Senate Democrats would have to cut 47% from their preferred items. For the Republicans that would be $331.25 Billion and for Democrats it would be $293.75 Billion.
$1.25 Trillion Excess Spending Proposed
House Democrats cut: 22.95% $338,125,000,000
House Republican cut: 27.05% $286,875,000,000
Senate Democrats cut: 23.50% $293,750,000,000
Senate Republicans cut: 26.50% $331,250,000,000
Total 100.00% $1,250,000,000,000
This gives a balance based on the equitable division of power in the House and Senate. This bill will also ensure that we, as a nation, live within our means. The “buffer” money that does not end up being needed, goes to pay down the principal on our national debt. Sometimes that may be most of the “buffer”. Sometimes there may not be much, if any, of the “buffer” left. But, this provides us a path to getting out of debt, or at the very least, stop the increase of our debt.
This bill will also require that the proposed cuts to the budget be completed within 14 days of the CBO’s determination of the Budget Excess. It’s time to stop the ranker in Congress. It’s time to buckle down and get the job done for the American people. No more Continuing Resolutions. No more “kicking the can down the road”. Members of Congress are getting paid very well. It’s time to EARN that pay and to act like mature grown-ups capable of handling the massive responsibility with which we are being entrusted!
Awards and Settlements
(a.k.a. “Slush Fund”)
Contrary to what is popularly reported, Congressional members do not have a secret, illegal “slush fund”. However, there are awards and settlements that are paid on behalf of member of Congress. This can be for workplace disputes, not just complaints of discrimination or sexual harassment. This is actually a line item listed in Treasury Reports under the heading “Awards and Settlements” under “Appropriations, Outlays, and Balances”.
The problem with this is that it is not detailed and does not tell the public how much went to different types of cases and/or settlements. This needs to change. If a member of Congress uses this fund to pay a settlement to someone accusing the congressman or congresswoman of criminal or civil wrongdoing, it should be made public.
We also have the issue of privacy – for the victim and the accused. Usually in these types of cases where it is settled out of court, without the case being proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused is still entitled (based on the United States Constitution) to the presumption of innocence. Innocent people settle cases for a variety of reason, such as it being too time consuming to fight in court, too expensive to fight in court, a desire to minimize damage to reputation that a public trial would bring even if proven innocent, etc.
To balance the interests of everyone – the accused, the alleged victim, and the public’s right to know – it is best to detail these expenses, but in non-specific ways. Here would be some examples:
“$100,000 was paid to settle a wrongful termination case against Senator John Doe”
“$136,000 was paid to settle a sexual harassment allegation against a staffer for Representative Jane Doe, but Representative Jane Doe was not a party to the case.”
This type of accounting informs the public as to what the money is being used for, which member of Congress on whose behalf it was paid, whether the Congress member was actually a party to the case, and what the allegation was. However, any and all reporting of these awards and settlements should include a statement reiterating that these were settlements paid without the presentation of evidence and without a judgement as to the substance of the allegation and that the accused is still presumed innocent.