The periodic call for congressional term limits suffers a fate similar to that of a kidnap victim’s scream for help from inside the trunk of an abandoned car. Yet as unlikely as term limits are to come about, it is still a worthy cause to reiterate the call from time to time.
If ever there has been a clearer gong for the revision of how we finance the election, allow for privileges and extend the seniority into perpetuity for federal legislators than the health care reform process, I don’t recall it. The highest profile portion of the reasonably civil part of the debate has been the year-long wrangling of the Senate Finance Committee and its sub-committee referred to rather aptly as “The Gang of Six.” There have been the less civil parts of the debate, but much has already been said, written and shown about that well-financed and well-camouflaged fiasco.
But lest I digress too far, back to term limits.
Over the couple of hundred years that we have elected our government representatives, those representatives have found that they have pretty good jobs. They pay well, require little heavy lifting and if you can align yourself with monied special interests, provide at least as much job security as that of the average auto worker. Hence, over that couple hundred years, the privileged few that have won an election have proceeded to create an environment of privilege, advantage and power who have reduced the likelihood that they will be defeated in an election to that of being struck by lightning.
And as they amass power, privilege and miscellaneous advantage they become the proverbial “foxes in the chicken house.”
Consider Senator Max Baucus, leader of The Gang of Six, that eloquent group of privileged few from the powerful Senate Finance Committee that spent a year wrangling over health care reform only to produce a proposed bill so bad that nobody likes it – nobody except for Baucus himself. Baucus’s elevation to chairman of the Finance Committee is a storied prototype of what happens when seniority propels incompetence and special interest to positions of real responsibility.
The bill spawned from the behind closed doors discussions of the Gang of Six has been universally decried as the worst of the worst. It has been described by nearly all sides of the debate as a $60 billion annual windfall for the health insurance companies. And why should there be any surprise? Baucus has ascended the ladder of seniority and power in the usual ways and along that path has taken over $3 million in campaign contributions from the health insurance industry in the last decade.
His Republican counterpart on “The Gang,” Sen. Charles Grassley has taken over $1 million from those same well-meaning corporate citizens.
How in anybody’s right mind can “The Senators” be expected to be objective or well intentioned in this debate? In an even modestly objective world they should be required to recuse themselves from such a position of influence under their personal circumstances of blatant conflicts of interest. It would appear at this point the insurance industry’s investment in Senators Baucus and Grassley has the prospects to produce a very handsome return, indeed.
And these are the people who through their time tested machinations and manipulations of power and privilge elevate themselves to positions of decision making that can be considered in the public interest by only the most naïve, uninformed and specially treated. The “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” assertion would seem very much in vogue.
Such dramatic illustrations justifying calls for implementation of term limits come along only every so often. So from the trunk of the car, “THROW THESE BUMS OUT.” And by the way, next time you pay your health insurance premium, you may want to include a tip for the good senators looking out for you.
John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesdays. E-mail him at john.kliebenstein@brownwood