- - Wednesday, April 26, 2017


We are looking at another potential federal government shutdown this week. The high drama over passing a budget, passing spending bills under regular order, and the lifting of the debt ceiling has gone on for far too many years.

Congress and the White House should be able to at least complete the basics of governing smoothly or be forced to do so by risk of a personal penalty or fine.

The three triggers for punishing members of Congress should be related to the three most basic parts of their job — passing a budget, funding the federal government under regular order, and managing the debt status of the United States.

The personal fine on members of Congress would have to be very severe and must be immediate.

Make members of Congress cut their own wrists before they pull the life support from the American people by not passing critical legislation when due. I strongly believe they will rush to find common ground at least among their own party members, ignore those who are hopelessly opposed to doing so, and pass aforementioned legislations on time.

It must not wait until Election Day. The record would show that the vast majority of the members of Congress do not fear elections with many not having a serious challenger in decades and others could not be beaten by Mother Teresa, if she registered with the opposition party, due to political gerrymandering and historical trends.

The American people want our Congress to do its job. And that takes 535 members and the White House working together.

I was an elected official for more than a decade with most of that time as a member of Congress from the great state of Connecticut. I’m Republican — and I go way back. I can remember meeting President Reagan in the White House as an elected official. I was the first black conservative elected to Congress, and I was the first black Republican elected to the House of Representatives in nearly 60 years back in 1990.

It is my belief that the most skilled members of Congress are the ones who are able to work with other members to help their constituents, state and nation.

Voters can only reward you so much for “trying and failing” — and today, Republicans control the House, Senate and White House. There are no excuses. Achievements are what warrant praise. Giving your supporters false expectations or overpromising would slowly come to an end. Everyone understands that Rome was not built in a day. It often takes small steps to truly make a positive difference. The more steps taken, the closer you get to your goal.

It took a while for Congress to get to this point. Eliminating earmarks stripped the party leadership of a large amount of its strength. The expanded use of gerrymandering in congressional districts created more polarization and has made it very difficult to beat an incumbent. Thus, there are little consequences for a person’s actions. On the rare occasions when a member of Congress is defeated, they are frequently replaced with a person more to the left or right.

To achieve nothing is not an achievement. That is why the approval ratings for Congress have been so low over the years.

We should fine all the members of Congress and the president if they are unable to do the basic parts of their aforementioned jobs and eliminate the anywhere, anytime threat of removal of a speaker. We would have a much smoother running federal government. (To affect Congress it would only take a rule change).

How hefty should the fine be to get their attention and how should it be done to ensure fairness? After all, some members are multimillionaires and a fine too small would cause them to ignore it. On the other hand, some members are living month to month from their paycheck, and you do not want the fine to be too crippling for those folks.

The solution is to make it a percentage of their adjusted gross income (AGI) from their most recent federal tax return. This would make it fair. Make the fine equal to 10, 15 or 20 percent of their AGI payable to a nonprofit like the United Way of America.

The result — gridlock is over.

Politicians would learn not only to work with others who have different views but they will also learn to manage the expectations of their constituents. Those who are the best and the brightest will shine in such an environment and the American people would benefit the most.

• Gary Franks is a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Connecticut.

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