Having served in congress for 22 years, I am constantly asked, "What can be done to clean up the mess in Congress?" There is no quick fix or silver bullet. In my opinion there are some difficult steps that could dramatically make Congress much better.
Many people are of the opinion that members of Congress (House and Senate) would sell their souls for money to help them get re-elected. I don't fully agree with this sentiment, but sometimes perception is larger than truth.
In my opinion, the best thing we could do is have term limits. Myself and Rep. Bill McCollum of Florida co-chaired an ad hoc committee solely for that purpose. Our idea was to have three, four-year terms for the House, two, six-year terms for the Senate, and one, six-year term for the president. This would have to be a constitutional amendment.
If we had an amendment like this, one-third of the House and half of the Senate would be in their last term, and could devote their complete time and talents serving the people. Every time we floated this idea, many people liked it but wanted to add that members would serve without pay. Doing that would assuredly turn Congress into a rich man's club (like our caucus system does in Utah) and the middling folks would be totally excluded. As chairman of the ethics committee, one of my duties was to review the financial disclosures of members. At that time Congress was almost a rich man's club.
Admittedly, it would be difficult to pass a term limit bill. However, if you want to clean up the so-called mess in Congress, I can't think of a better way. As one man said, "Bind them down with the chains of the Constitution." It is too bad that the issue could not be on a national ballot; I think it would easily pass.
However, to add an amendment, a bill must pass both houses with a two-thirds vote, be signed by the president, and ratified by 38 states. I doubt that the majority in Congress would support the bill. They would discuss it, analyze it, hold meetings, complicate it, bear their testimonies and do nothing.
James V. Hansen is a former member of Congress from Utah.