Good Government Reformby Senator David Vitter
Posted on 2013-01-23
VITTER. Mr. President, more and more Americans from all walks of
life, of both political parties, feel there is not just a pond or a sea
but an ocean of difference between the real world where they live and
Washington, DC. They view--I think correctly--Washington, DC, as a
different planet where
normal rules do not seem to apply. That is why on the first day I could
introduce new legislation in this new Congress, I chose to introduce a
package of reform measures--measures aimed at bridging that gap,
bringing those two worlds together, returning us--returning Washington
to the real world and reconnecting with the American people.
The American people are also concerned--rightly--about the bitter partisanship, the overly ideological tone of almost all of the debate we have here in Washington now, here in Congress.
I believe these sorts of reform measures--the four bills I have introduced in particular--can also help bridge that divide because they are not ideological, they are not partisan, they are good-government reform, things that can and should and, hopefully, will bring us together and bring us together and reconnect us with the American people. Again, it is another reason I chose to introduce this package of four reform measures, four good-government bills on the first day I could introduce legislation this Congress.
The first is a very simple and basic but fundamental idea: term limits for Members of Congress. I am honored to be joined by six other Senators right out of the gate, right out of the box in terms of cosponsoring this important legislation: Senators Paul, Ayotte, Coburn, Lee, Rubio, Cruz, and Johnson. I thank them for their cosponsorship and their support. This measure would limit Members of Congress in the House to three consecutive terms, a total of 6 years, and the Senate to two consecutive terms, a total of 12 years. It is a consensus measure supported by citizens groups very active and supportive of the concept of term limits. The idea, again, is simple: to reconnect Congress with the American people, to do away with the notion of legislating as a career, and to get back to the Founders' vision of citizen legislators.
When I was in the State legislature, I authored and passed term limits for the State legislature. That required a State constitutional amendment--a big deal--a two-thirds vote in each body, and then a vote of the people. But because of the people's voices rising and being heard, we achieved that. With that reform, which was voted overwhelmingly into the State constitution by the people of Louisiana, we have a regular influx now of new, fresh blood, real experience from the real world that reconnects in a very healthy way the State legislature and all of us, the citizens, whom it is supposed to represent. That was needed for the State legislature, and if it was-- and it was--it is needed a thousand times more for Congress because that divide, that sea, that ocean, that difference between different planets in the eyes of so many Americans is even greater between Congress and the real world, Congress and the American people.
The second bill I have introduced is a bill to do away with automatic pay increases for Members of Congress. That is present law, that we get regular increases of pay with no proposal, no bill put in the hopper, no debate, no need for an inconvenient vote. I think that is just outright wrong. I think it helps build that distrust on the part of the American people. I am joined by a bipartisan cosponsor, Senator McCaskill of Missouri. I thank her for her leadership and her support of this measure. Again, the measure is very simple: Just repeal, do away with any automatic pay increases for Members of Congress. If there is to be a pay increase, there should be a bill proposing it and open debate and a public vote.
The third measure is also fully bipartisan. I am introducing it with Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. It is reform of the Corps of Engineers--something very important for our two States but also for, indeed, the whole country. In Louisiana, in Florida, and elsewhere, unfortunately, the Corps of Engineers has become a poster child for a dysfunctional Federal Government, a Federal bureaucracy, a Federal system that is just bogged down, does not work. It takes 10 and 20 years to study something, never ever getting to construction. We need to streamline and reform that process, and the Vitter-Nelson bill does just that by greatly streamlining the process by which Corps projects can come to fruition, putting State and local leaders more in charge of that effort, at first on a pilot basis. Hopefully, we will expand that in the future for important Corps of Engineers projects. Again, that is particularly important for our States of Louisiana and Florida, but it is important for so many States and for the country as a whole.
Fourth and finally, I am introducing a measure that I have had before to reform Federal campaign finance law to prohibit PACs and campaign funds from employing Members' spouses or family members.
That is just a way, quite frankly, in some circumstances for Members of Congress, politicians, to pad their family income. I think that is wrong, and that leads directly to the real suspicion and low regard in which so many Americans hold this institution.
Again, this bill is simple, straightforward, but important. It would prohibit spouses and immediate family members of Members of Congress from receiving payments from that Member's campaign accounts or leadership PACs. That is a loophole and an area of abuse we must close. We must prohibit that abuse in the future.
These four bills won't solve every problem out there. They won't be the be-all and end-all of important reform and good-government efforts, but they would be an important start. They would help us truly reconnect with the American people and narrow this divide, which is so vast right now, between the real world, real Americans, and this institution. They would be important, nonpartisan, nonideological reform efforts that we can gather around, Republicans and Democrats alike, to do something positive, to do something productive, and to reconnect with the American people.
I urge my colleagues from both parties to support these measures, to come on as cosponsors. Many of you already have, and I thank you for that.
Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.