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Bryan Eagle: Reconnecting Congress with us

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Washington, DC, January 15, 2012 | comments

By Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas)

Special to The Eagle

When I ran for Congress, I became aware of the frustration of many Americans who believe their elected representatives have become a ruling class of elites who do not feel the personal impact of the legislation they pass. That is why I launched the Reconnecting Congress with America Initiative.

Derived from an idea I discussed during the campaign, the Reconnecting Congress with America Initiative is a foundation of congressional reforms that would overhaul our system of governing, restore confidence in Congress and reconnect Congress with the American people.

This initiative includes four simple yet meaningful reforms in order to instill a culture of servant leadership, to remove Congress' current ruling-class mindset and to restore accountability to our broken system in Washington.

The Reconnecting Congress with America Initiative addresses the following issues: term limits, congressional pay, congressional benefits and requiring elected officials to live under the laws enacted by Congress.

Term limits

The Reconnecting Congress with America Initiative includes, H.J. Res. 20 by U.S. Rep. Todd Platts, R-Penn., a term limit bill that I cosponsored which amends the Constitution, limiting U.S. senators to two consecutive terms and U.S. representatives to six. By establishing term limits in the House and Senate, we may work to restore our Founders' principle of bringing real-world perspectives to Congress and rid Washington of the culture of political careerism.

Term limits serve as a reminder to elected officials that they will have to return to the "real world" and function like the rest of America's workers and job creators.

Ensuring that members of Congress return to life outside of Washington should encourage a more realistic understanding of the logic and the impact of federal regulation on the private sector.

Congressional pay

Many Americans believe that their elected representatives do not feel the economic pain that the middle class feels every day and that they are insulated from the effects of the economic downturn of 2008. We must have a way to ensure that Congress is doing its job, taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and federal government programs are meeting the needs of the American people.

To address this issue, I introduced a unique aspect to the Reconnecting Congress with America Initiative, H.R. 3565, which aims to reconnect members of Congress with "Main Street" America by conforming congressional pay to private sector responses to our country's economic situation.

The Act ties member salary to the annual federal budget deficit. If the federal deficit is greater than or equal to 3 percent of gross domestic product, then members' pay would be cut by 20 percent. If the deficit is less than 3 percent of gross domestic product members' pay would be cut by 10 percent. If there is no deficit or even a surplus, members would get 100 percent of their base salary.

This Act also eliminates automatic cost of living congressional pay increases, thus requiring members of Congress to hold a transparent vote on any pay increase. The savings -- while a small percentage of overall federal spending -- would serve as an important step in forcing Congress to get total federal spending under control.

Given the importance of leading by example, Congress' own salary is an especially appropriate place for spending cuts to take place in order to make Congress more in touch with the economic situation that American private sector employees and job creators experience every day.

Congressional benefits

H.R. 3565 requires members of Congress to increase their contribution to the congressional retirement plan. Under this provision, member contributions would increase from 1.3 percent to 6.2 percent of their pay, the same percentage that private sector employees pay into Social Security.

While this is a good first step, I ultimately believe that Congress should have no defined benefit retirement plan. Thus, I have also cosponsored H.R. 3480, the End Pensions in Congress Act by U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., which would eliminate congressional retirement plans.

Living under the Law

A recent CBS 60 Minutes investigation of insider trading on Capitol Hill implies the necessity for legislation prohibiting commodities and securities trading based on nonpublic information for members of Congress and their employees. H.R. 3565 also includes provisions restricting members from insider trading and setting a standard for them to be subject to the laws they pass.

I also have cosponsored H.R. 1148, the STOCK Act by U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., which includes similar reforms.

Other Reforms

In the beginning of the 112th Congress, the new House majority immediately began work by adopting two important, bipartisan reforms to the way Congress operates: H. Res. 5 implements new rules intended to make House procedures more open and accountable, and H. Res. 22 cut the budgets of all House leadership, committee and member office accounts by 5 percent for 2011.

Recently, we cut our budgets by an additional 6.3 percent for 2012. I want my constituents in Central Texas to know that I tightened our belt and we operated our congressional office in 2011 for less cost than my predecessor in 2010.

These are examples of the new majority keeping its pledge to America -- but I believe we can do more to fix what's broken in Washington.

Many of my fellow colleagues in the 89-member freshman class entered the 112th Congress with real-world, private-sector backgrounds. These doctors, lawyers, farmers, pizza shop owners and businessmen achieved the American dream through hard work and determination.

As a former entrepreneur and business owner, now serving on the Job Creators' Caucus, I know first-hand what it takes to create jobs and grow our economy. Like many of the freshmen, I ran for Congress with a sense of duty to restore America's exceptional promise, prosperity and security so that our children and grandchildren would have the same opportunities as my generation to follow their dreams.

It isn't too late to reconnect Congress with America and demonstrate to our constituents that we as members of Congress are willing to be held accountable and more closely align ourselves with those we represent.

For more information on Reconnecting Congress with America, visit Congress with America Initiative.

* U.S. Rep. Bill Flores represents the 17th District of Texas and is a member of the House Budget, Natural Resources and Veterans' Affairs Committees. He is an entrepreneur, certified public accountant.

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