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Congress has been deadlocked in partisan battles for more than two years. Congress is completely unable to act on anything in a proactive manner. It has been difficult for Congress to even do the necessary duties to keep the government operating. Yet the prospect of the next election is not an incentive to do their jobs. Due to gerrymandering nearly all seats of Congress are completely safe. The districts have been draw so as to minimize the number of seats that are at risk and maximize the number of seats that are solidly for one side or the other. Some might suggest the threat of taking away their pay but that would have little to no effect. Most members of Congress are wealthy and do not depend on their wages. In fact that is practically a requirement for the job since getting elected is a full time job itself. Few without wealth could manage to even run for Congress because they could not take the time off work in order to do so. That necessitates that most members of Congress are wealthy enough to take extend periods off work. So financial penalties would have little effect of their behavior.

What to do then?

Well Congress exists to represent the people of the United States of America, that is their purpose. Thus if the approval rating for Congress falls bellow 40% then they should face a penalty because a majority of the country is unhappy with their job performance. This is fair measure for several reasons. First it is bipartisan, Congressional approval is general and not party specific. Second it is not issue specific rather it is general. It is the overall evaluation of their job performance. Third Congressional approval directly relates to the purpose Congress exists which is to represent the people. So if most of the country is unhappy with their performance then Congress is clearly not representing the country as they should.

But what penalty would motivate Congress to perform better?

Well if they are not doing their job then they should have to focus all their effort into their job instead of other things. So if Congressional approval falls bellow 40% then Congress should be required to be in session from 9am – 5pm  Monday to Friday. Congress would only get Christmas, Thanksgiving and 4th of July as holidays. Furthermore they would only be granted 2 weeks of paid time off per year. If any Congressional member took more 5 extra days off then they would be required to immediately resign their position due to inability to meet the obligations necessary to hold office. These conditions would be lifted once Congressional approval ratings were equal to or greater than 50% for two consecutive measurements at least 30 days apart. Simply put these rules require that if the public does not believe Congress is performing their job adequately then Congress must invest full-time work into their job until they perform adequately. On the other side if the public is satisfied with Congress’s job performance then they are free to take extra time off because they have adequately represented the public.

This could work for a couple reasons. First it would force Congress to actually work when the public is dissatisfied with them. Congress would not be free to take multiple several week vacations every year. Rather they would be required to be in Washington working. This is no different than most workers face. If they are not performing well on the job then they need to redouble their efforts in order to get a good evaluation next time. In the workplace under-performing employees are not given extra leeway, instead they are given stricter conditions for continued employment. Next it would impose a penalty on their family life. Congressional members would have minimal time off to spend holidays with their family. Yes they get Christmas but no additional days without using their paid time off. The desire to spend time with their spouse, children and extended family could really motivate one to try and do a better job. Agian this is simlar to the situation many workers find themselves in. If the work is not finished then you need to put in time on the weekends or over holidays. In fact many families are unable to spend holidays together because the need to work. Finally if Congress is held to a schedule like that during an election it would put them at a severe disadvantage. They could not campaign except on weekends and evenings. They could not fundraise all the time. That means any challenger would have a better chance against them because the challenger may not be bound by such a strict schedule. Also even if this was imposed during a non-election year it would put them at a disadvantage because Congress fundraises all the time and this would stop them for periods of time from focusing purely on fundraising. That would impact the amount of money they have to work with when the election comes around. This would be the biggest motivator because it could make it very very difficult for an incumbent to hold their position.

Thus when Congressional approval falls bellow 40% then Congress should be held to a strict 9am-5pm Monday-Friday schedule with only 3 paid holidays and only 2 weeks paid time off. That would require a Congress which is not representing the people to focus all their time and effort into doing their job.


PS Thank you Kamil Zawadzki, your post on the sequester inspired this.