Majority Leader Howard Baker, during last week's debate over congressional pay, described why he feels the Senate is out of touch with America. His remarks, condensed:
MR. PRESIDENT, I wonder sometimes how we lost our way in the continuing business of defining the role of Congress. For I am sure that the Founding Fathers never intended us to be what we are today -- an aggregation of senators elected by popular vote, committed full time to the legislative undertaking in the federal city, returning to our homes for periodic visits on weekends. . . . We have become elected bureaucrats.
I am sure that was never intended by the Founding Fathers. It does not take a very keen student or a scholarly approach to the classic design of the American republic to ascertain that the powers of government were divided between the Congress -- which I think of as the people's branch -- to set the general policies of the government in the name of the people; and the representative of the collective sovereign . . . to execute those policies to the executive department; with all of these activities to be monitored by the court and by the sovereign itself.
But for the life of me, I cannot see any place in the Constitution or the early documents of the republic where it says Congress was supposed to compete with the bureaucracy in the detailed daily nitty-gritty of governing this country.
Now, that may sound . . . not very exciting and pretty theoretical, but I think that really is how we lost our self-image of the policy-setting people's branch of the government.
Some of my friends and colleagues who may accidentally read these remarks have heard me make this speech before. I can recall so clearly when my father came to Congress many years ago. He came on the train from Tennessee, and it was an overnight trip. He came in January and he had no plans to go home before Easter, certainly, and maybe not until later in the spring. He never thought about moving his family permanently to Washington or giving up his home in Tennessee. For that matter, he never thought about giving up his profession or his business or his civic enterprises and interests. He was a Tennessean, temporarily in Washington to speak for the people of his congressional district.
Years later, I was elected to the Senate and I came in a jet airplane. It took an hour. I brought my family with me. I went home the following weekend, and I still go home almost every weekend for a hurried grazing pass at the people of my state, masquerading in the guise of a man trying to find out what is going on. And who in the world can find out what is going on in the people's minds on a Saturday or Sunday when people would rather not be talking to politicians to begin with?
Mr. President, my father came up here with two staff people, and when he went home he went back on the train, and he took two trunks with him. Until this good day, I will bet members of the Senate do not understand . . . why they are entitled to two footlockers every year. . . . The reason was that members were expected to gather up their files in their office, put them in those footlockers, and send them home so that they could work with them for those 7 or 8 months of the year that they were expected to be home. . . . You can go down to the sergeant at arms' office and still get your two trunks every year. I bet you cannot put your files in them, though.
Mr. President, my point is that I do not think we will ever solve this problem of pay for members of congress as long as we think of ourselves as permanent full-time employes of the federal government instead of the elected representatives of the people of our districts and states. . . . We pass silly . . . statutes that say we are forbidden to do anything else except come up here and legislate 12 months out of the year. . . . I like to point out that when I came here in 1967, I was a wealthy young lawyer. I have gotten over all three of those conditions now.
Mr. President, the only way we will solve the problem is to redefine our role. And our role is to represent the people on major policy decisions and to transmit those judgments on policy to the executive department to execute, with us to supervise and the court to monitor for constitutionality.
That is why, Mr. President, I think the answer is not more money but less money. That is why I think we ought to be in session not 12 months out of the year but 6 or 7 months. . . . That is why I think there ought to be a positive disincentive for the Senate to stay around instead of an incentive for us to do so. . . .
I would like to see us once more to be an aggregation of lawyers and doctors and farmers and architects. I would like to see us once again immersed in the business of our country so that we understand what it is about and what we are legislating about. . . .
We are never going to get over the business of passing thousand-page bills until we get over that. I come to the floor sometimes and look at a piece of legislation. I have picked up one at random, which is the supplemental appropriations bill. It is a half-inch thick and 125 pages long. I believe there are not more than 10 members of the Senate who have read it all the way through, and I do not blame them. Incidentally, I am not one of the 10.
Mr. President. . . . I saw one once that was 1,200 pages. That is not why we are in business. . . . It seems like the Federal Register instead of the United States Code. . . . It appears like the product of a bunch of anonymous bureaucrats instead of elected senators. It sounds like we do not know what we are supposed to be doing, and we do not.
We are the trustees of the ultimate sovereignity. The ultimate sovereignty in this country is the full expression of the desires and the demands and the dissent of the people of this nation expressed through their elected representatives. We will not in our lifetime really know what the range of those desires and demands and dissent may be if we stay on the banks of the Potomac 12 months of the year. . . . I think that one of these days we have to reexamine the fundamental role of Congress in relation to this magnificent country of ours and its role in this inspired federal system that our Founding Fathers gave us.
I apologize to my colleagues for my inability to resist preaching this sermon . . . and I apologize to the public printer for the excess Record he will have to print tomorrow.