Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:14

Louisiana’s Jindal’s Limited Congress: Ideological Slogan

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   Those citizens impatient for Gov. Bobby Jindal's ideas for balancing the state budget without damaging higher education or healthcare need to chill while he thinks big on how to fix the federal government.

   In a recent interview in the magazine Human Events, he rattled off three major ideas to remake the legislative branch: restrict Congress to working only part of the year, impose terms limits on its members and prohibit them, once they are gone, from returning as lobbyists.

    Two out of three isn't bad. Term limits would be as healthy for Congress as they are for the presidency and state legislatures. Extending the lobbying ban beyond the current two years after congressmen leave office would improve the ethical climate. When enough congressional candidates take blood oaths to do both and are elected, it will be a snap. For all the time he spends out of state, Jindal could lead the national movement.

    But the governor strays far off constitutional base when he advocates turning Congress into a lesser branch of government.

    Jindal should know better, and probably does, but must like the red-meat, government-bashing sound of it when he says, "We used to pay farmers not to grow crops. Let's pay congressmen to stay out of Washington, D.C."

    For starters, it's intriguing that Jindal would model his reform of Congress on federal farm subsidies, for all the good they do. His is not a new idea. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, in his brief bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, promoted the same idea as he tried to connect to the anti-Washington fervor of the time. (He's still there, by the way.)

     The governor claims the constitution envisioned a part-time Congress, though the framers did not exactly write it down that way. As for intent, the Founding Fathers also had in mind a relatively weak executive branch, not one charged with overseeing the world's largest economy and greatest military superpower. Wisely, they left the details, such as meeting times, for future generations to work out to meet future circumstances.

   What the framers were clear about were co-equal branches of government and a system of checks and balances, and not domination by a full-time chief executive in control of the administration and the military, a situation to which a part-time Congress would inevitably lead. Any occupant of the White House, not to mention legions of bureaucrats and generals, would relish the view of the U.S. Capitol dark half the year. Fewer noisome congressional inquiries, oversight hearings and drawn-out budget negotiations.{sidebar id=4}

   He argues that the part-time Legislature works well in Louisiana, and it does, for the governor, whose budgets are passed with little alteration, and who generally gets his way with lawmakers, especially when they are not around.

    Jindal mentions the need to, without explaining how to, also curtail the executive branch's constitutional power to match his proposed limits on Congress. Supporters of his idea argue the president too would be restricted because Congress would not be in session as much to pass new laws for him. The president and his Cabinet, however, would not need new laws, only a budget with minimal congressional input, to administer the government as they would like without legislative second-guessing.

   The governor's timing for his idea is curious, just as the wave election has swept a conservative majority into the House and more Republicans into the Senate. It will take them working over-time, not less, to fulfill their promises of rolling back the massive healthcare law and checking administrative rules affecting the environment and commerce. If Republicans win back control of Congress next time, they won't want to be there less, regardless of who's in the White House.

   Not that Jindal's idea or this criticism of it matters much, because no Congress, liberal or conservative, is going to vote by two-thirds majority to weaken itself.

   Though Jindal is criticized for pretending to fix the country before he fixes the state, there is nothing wrong with him joining the conversation about the country's future. But he needs do better than come up with half-baked, ideological slogans, lest he be seen as the kind of crowd-pleasing demagogue that the Founding Fathers feared most.

by John Maginnis of

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