Term limits, shorter sessions?

Should being a politician be a full-time job? Should being a member of Congress be a good job, with great benefits? Should being a member of Congress be a lifetime job?

Currently, the Congress of the United States is made up of professional legislators. Legislating is their principal business.

According to usgovinfo.about.com: Members of the House and Senate are paid $174,000 per year. Leadership of the two parties are paid more — the speaker of the House receives $223,500 per year; majority and minority leaders in both houses of Congress receive $193,400 per annum.

Congressmen and senators elected after 1984 are fully vested in the Federal Employees Retirement System after five years. Those members are also eligible for Social Security.

Like other federal employees, legislators also receive first-rate health insurance. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, “federal employees, retirees and survivors can choose coverage from the widest selection of health plans in the country.”

So, the question becomes, “Why wouldn’t you want to be a career, full-time legislator?” Good pay, great benefits, and incumbents are re-elected at a rate of between 80 and 90 percent.

A better question is: Is this what our founding fathers intended the national legislature to be? An even better question is: Are we best served by returning the same people to office year after year or would we be better off with fresh faces and fresh ideas?

James Madison said legislators should be “called for the most part from pursuits of a private nature and continued in appointment for a short period of office.”Clearly, he favored citizen legislators — part-timers who had other professions as their principal jobs.

Our state Legislature in Iowa is largely made up of citizen legislators and it can be argued that their experiences in the private sector keep them more in touch with their constituents.

With the approval rating of Congress near all-time lows, it would appear the perfect time to step back and ask:

Is this full-time, professional legislature what the country needs? Or is time to look at term limits or a shortened legislative season — or both?