A modest proposal for these times

Let’s privatize Congress!

Commentary by James H. Lewis

It’s time to privatize Congress. The federal subsidy of this playground for the rich is bleeding American taxpayers and adding to the deficit. Not only does Congress cost more than $60 million annually in direct salaries, but its staff, perks and infrastructure add hundreds of millions more. Why should all of us pay for an institution benefiting only the few?

Congress sells billboard space on its walls to Pizza HutEach congressional candidate should seek sponsorship from a corporation or association willing to pay his campaign costs and, if elected, his salary and office expenses. These relationships should be public; no more hiding them until after election day. Let voters study both the candidates and their sponsors and cast their ballots accordingly.

Would corporate America respond to this challenge? Several business leaders say they’re eager to invest in members of Congress. They foresee not only legislative benefits, but commercial tie-ins as their lawmakers appear in t-shirts and baseball caps adorned with company logos.

A Baby Bell wants to sponsor Sen. Larry Pressler. A cable television giant has dibs on Newt Gingrich, who is also being pursued by GM Parts to appear as Mr. Goodwrench. Health insurance companies are bidding on Bob Dole, and Sam Nunn is attracting the interest of defense contractors. In a stunning affirmation of the potential of privatization, the tobacco industry has offered to sponsor nearly 300 lawmakers. There is a downside. Some controversial House veterans do not appear to be marketable and would not survive this transition. Their departures may be lamentable to some, but the marketplace exists to make such tough decisions dispassionately. Sponsoring members of Congress is a long-overdue start.

We can do more. If you watched the State of the Union message as I did, you may have noticed the amount of empty wall space in the House chamber. Let’s put that space to work, subsidizing House operations with messages from Pepsi, Budweiser and Copenhagen snuff.

There’s room for a couple of billboards in the Senate. Athletic shoe manufacturers should vie for the chance to sponsor a DiamondVision screen above each chamber, which would display roll-call votes and explode with fireworks and the words ”SLAM DUNK!” when a closely fought bill passes. Chevrolet could name a Player of the Week.

Some congressional committees could be spun off as profit-making corporations. Imagine how much the House Banking Committee would earn were it able to charge for passing or bottling up legislation.

Finally, the American people deserve a fair share of the many ancillary products produced by Congress. Twenty-three senators have books in print. Where’s our cut? These guys are full-time employees. Let’s charge for the Congressional Record, and if Congress can’t sell display ads on the front and back covers, I’ll handle it for a straight commission.

Let’s get real. Just because the legislature is a branch of government doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be run in a businesslike manner. Privatizing Congress will get it off the backs of American taxpayers and make those who benefit foot the bill!

In more serious moments, the writer, Jim Lewis, lobbies against airing animal mating scenes on public television and for special programming serving deceased viewers. His memoirs, Delusions of Adequacy, will be published this spring.
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