America’s elected leaders in Congress have become a ruling class in many ways. Congress was originally intended to be the branch of government most closely tied to the people. That tie has been greatly weakened as citizen legislators have given way to permanent legislators that hold their seats for many terms. These members of Congress spend decades living in DC and can easily loose touch with their constituents. Sometimes members of Congress do not even maintain a home with the people they are supposed to represent. It can be argued that a representative living and working in Washington DC, represents Washington DC rather that their former areas.
Let’s take a look at a representative (Maxine Waters) and two senators (Pat Roberts and Mary Landrieu) as examples.
California representative Maxine Waters (CA-43) lives outside of her district in a 6,000-square foot, $4 million mansion in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Her neighborhood is just 6% black.
She has little in common with the people in her district. CA-43 is 24% black, full of gangs and poverty. Maybe the district would get a few of its problems addressed if their congressperson lived there!
If Waters wants to remain in Congress, she should move into CA-43 or run in the wealthy district where she resides.
Like Waters, around 20 members of The House did not reside in their districts in the last election. Usually they lived nearby, and in some cases their district had been redrawn after the member was first elected. Shouldn’t representatives be required to live in their districts? Being elected to Congress is a privilege, not a right.
In 2014, it was exposed that Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) no longer had a “home” in Kansas. Roberts owns a house, but has rented it out for years despite using it as his “voting address”. He stays at a donor’s house when he comes to visit Kansas. Seriously? How many days was Roberts in Kansas during his 6-year term? More than one or two days a year? His favorite donor does not run a bed-and-breakfast after all. Shouldn’t Roberts have to be a resident of Kansas to represent it?
It also came to light that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) did not have a home in her state of Louisiana. Landrieu listed her parents house in New Orleans as her Louisiana domicile. The Senator, her eight siblings and mother own the New Orleans house together. Landrieu lived in her home in Washington D.C with her husband. (I’m sure Mary and her husband spent many days in Louisiana visiting with her mom and siblings together in their crowded house.)
Working at Home
In addition to living in their states and districts, wouldn’t it be better for representatives to work in their districts too? Instead of constituents being limited to the occasional town hall with a visiting representative, how about having their rep frequently working at their district office?
Senators should be working from the capitol of their states – near the state legislatures. Senators were originally intended to represent the states. After multiple terms in office, many senators like Robert and Landrieu, become enamored with the DC lifestyle. They don’t want to work in places like Topeka, KS, or Baton Rouge, LA. They need to spend more time working among the country class rather than the ruling class.
It is possible for Congress to productively work from many home offices spread throughout the nation. In this day of internet and mass connectivity, members of Congress should be able to vote from their home offices in a secure manner. Likewise congressional committee meetings can be held via video conference from the home offices. Watch cable TV news shows, and you will see many interviews or panels conducted with the parties in different locations/states. It works just fine.
To return Congress to their homes, here is a proposed constitutional amendment. The objective is to make sure elected representatives and their staffs spend more time among their constituents than Washington DC elites. Representatives and staff will better understand constituent needs and concerns by living and working among them.
Congressional Residence Amendment to Constitution
- Members of Congress must have primary residence in their state or district
- Each senator must establish a home office in the state capitol of their state. Each senator must work from this office 180 days per year.
- Each representative must establish a home office in their congressional district. Each representative must work from this office a minimum of 180 days per year.
- Each member must make public the days spent in their home office. Failure to spend 180 days in their home office will make them ineligible to run for the office in the next election.
- All congressional staff must have primary residence in the home state or district of their congressman.
- All congressional staff must work primarily from the home office of their congressman.
Congress could do this without an amendment, but they won’t. Many of them have no desire to spend time in their districts outside of campaigning before election time. They prefer the wining and dining lifestyle of lobbyist-rich DC. Likewise Congress will not pass this amendment on its own. Passage will need a constitutional Convention of States, where 34 state delegations agree to the amendment, followed by ratification of 38 state legislatures.
The DC Congress has spawned scores of lobbyists living in DC (many on K Street). Lobbyists will strongly oppose this amendment. They love being able to influence Congress from their DC offices. Lobbyists have no desire to be forced travel the nation trying to meet with congressmen!
Can Congress function away from DC?
Recent Congresses in DC have set the bar for functionality very low. The Senate has allowed itself to be tied up in knots with a 60 vote rule to pass any legislation. Since the two parties are usually diametrically opposed, and neither has 60 votes, nothing passes. So why are the Senators sitting in DC when they are not voting. Placing members and staff away from the DC culture might actually introduce more common sense into legislation.
Congressional Time in Session
The congressional legislative bodies spend a very limited time actually in session. The House of Representatives has averaged 138 legislative days a year; The Senate was in session an average of 162 days a year. (From 2001-2016 according to the Library of Congress) This averages about one day of work every three days, or fewer than three days a week.
If there are 260 working days per year, 180 days at the home office still leaves about 80 days for members to be in Washington DC at their capitol offices. (More if weekends are worked) Congress could be in session many more days if its members could be “in session” from their home offices.
Congress has the responsibility to oversee the entire federal government and approve spending to fund it. Honestly, both Republican and Democrat controlled Congresses have failed spectacularly in their oversight. Can anyone recall one event in either the Obama or Trump presidencies where a congressional oversight committee accomplished anything? But there will still be 80 working days in DC for oversight committees to do their work. Weekends can be worked in more time is needed.
For the last decade-plus Congress hasn’t even bothered with budgets or specific spending bills. They just wait till a week before the new fiscal year begins, then create a “must-pass” omnibus bill to fund the entire government. It doesn’t take many days in DC to do this! The budget process clearly seems to be broken, and moving the process into districts will not make it any worse.
When representatives and staff go to Washington DC to work, it should be like a business trip for them. Reversing the current mindset of working from DC and “visiting” their voters. This amendment will go along way toward making Congress more in tune with the citizens than the governing class.
Scot Wolf is the author of The Bible and Constitution Made America Great By Providing Freedom and Liberty to Citizens, available at Amazon.com, or at www.RestoretheFoundation.com, or as a Nook or Kindle eBook.