We can unite behind term limits

term limits

The country is politically polarized, but one issue that Democrats, Republicans and Independents can unite behind is term limits for members of the U.S. Congress.

We wouldn’t need to have this conversation if Congress weren’t so dysfunctional. It passes highly consequential legislation without reading it (Obamacare), is incapable of managing our money ($20 trillion debt) and will not work together on an issue as bipartisan as term limits. What is good for the nation is many times pushed aside for what is, instead, good for the politician or party.

There are three common arguments against term limits, but they’re weak.

Some say that we already have term limits, and that it’s called voting. But we don’t really have primaries or elections anymore. We have incumbency retention days. It’s the day citizens go to the voting booth and pull the lever for the name most recognized, thanks to media and money advantages that incumbents possess.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that during the 2016 election, the average Senate incumbent raised nearly $13 million while the challenger raised about $1.6 million. The average House incumbent raised $1.6 million compared to $200,000 from the opponent. With the help of all that money, about 87 percent of U.S. senators and 97 percent of U.S. representatives were re-elected.

Money is helping to send the same people back to Washington D.C. over and over again, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing if citizens actually had confidence in these elected officials. But high re-election rates don’t equal high enthusiasm for the work of the incumbents. A recent Rasmussen survey found that only 15 percent of voters felt members of Congress did a good or excellent job.

The vote is no longer efficacious.

A second reason given to oppose term limits is that while it would purge the corrupt and power-driven, it would also kick out the good ones. For example, it could be argued that decades-serving U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has represented Iowa well and done a lot of good for our nation.

But it’s not that Grassley has done something wrong. It’s that there are lots of other people who are fully capable of doing something right. If we vote with the fearful belief that there’s a scarcity of intelligence and wisdom in our country, we’ve already become a nation at risk. There are more than 535 individuals, out of 200 million adults, who love this country and can do what is necessary to keep her safe and prosperous.

Lastly, it’s said that it’s just too difficult to pass term limits because it requires a constitutional amendment.

The last amendment was the 27th and it stopped Congress from giving itself a pay raise that became effective immediately. Now, pay raises don’t become effective until after the next election. But without term limits, all it means is that instead of 100 percent of the current session of Congress enjoying the pay raise, just incumbents or 87 – 97 percent get it.

The amendment was needed, but the lack of term limits is the loophole that keeps members of Congress voting for their pay raises without consequence. We passed an amendment that has done little to rein in the power of lifer legislators. It’s worth the effort to pass an amendment that could dramatically reshape Congress back into a staff of citizen legislators, as was originally intended by the founding fathers.

In 1776, the colonists had the crazy notion that people didn’t need a king and could self-govern. It was a radical idea at the time, but now we take for granted that it will always last.

There will be, though, opposing forces driven by the lure of power that will continuously challenge this great Republic and our ability to effectively govern ourselves.

In President Abraham Lincoln’s time, proponents of slavery—thinly disguised as a states’ rights issue—was the opposing force. But in the Gettysburg Address, we hear his concern not just for a nation in a civil war, but also for the fragile future of such a country when he laments, “…whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure.”

Our “great task” is to ensure that it will endure.

For many today, there’s a sense that our government is no longer “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and part of the problem is the feeling that we’ve lost control of the political process.

Term limits could go a long way to bring power back to the people.

Colleges promote diversity, sometimes


Image by Shutterstock.

Colleges seem to care more about multiculturalism than about diversity of thought.

The University of Iowa and Iowa State University are predicting a decline in international students this year. That’s causing concern. Advocates for big international student numbers say it’s important for an institution of higher learning to provide an environment where multiple cultures can learn from each other. The extra tuition income doesn’t hurt, either.

Universities, though, are selective in what kind of learning is encouraged. A large university can brag about its 70 multicultural student organizations, but then balk at allowing a high-profile conservative speaker on its campus. Cultural diversity is embraced. Diversity of thought is sometimes stifled.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, there have been more than 300 attempts to disinvite campus speakers since 2000. More than two-thirds were conservative speakers that liberals were attempting to silence.

The data quantifies what’s been common knowledge for quite some time. College campuses are heavily tilted toward liberalism.

That’s why most parents sending a child with conservative leanings off to college have had “the talk” with them. Know who has the power—professors. Know the likely political leaning of these professors—liberal. Know what could happen if you challenge their belief system—the “A” paper could become a “B” paper.

Better to keep your head down, get through college, and let your conservatism shine after you have the degree in hand. Not a very proud talk to have with your child when you’re supposed to be living in the land of the free, but reality dictates it.

A recent Pew Research Center survey showed that 58 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning Independents felt colleges and universities had a negative effect on the way things are going in the country, while 72 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners said colleges had a positive impact.

In a very lopsided way, conservatives believe colleges are teaching the wrong things—but liberals are loving it.

It’s disingenuous for universities to be alarmed about lack of diversity through declining international student numbers, while at the same time showing little concern about protecting diversity of political thought.

It would be terrible if there were no international students on campus. Universities are a unique place where students can learn about their world. What better way to learn than to bring the world to them through international students?

But multiculturalism is just one type of diversity. Political thought is another. Half of the population of this country leans conservative, and yet the conservative voice on campus isn’t always heard.

Many years ago, a wise junior high teacher gave his students the assignment of writing and delivering a speech where each would argue either for or against hunting. Using critical thinking, our young minds eventually reached the correct conclusion that it wasn’t an either-or debate. Hunting is a pleasurable hobby for many and provides food. It can also be necessary to thin populations when there aren’t enough natural predators. But hunting is wrong when it puts a species on the brink of extinction. All or nothing doesn’t work in the hunting world.

It doesn’t work that great in political discourse, either. We need choices. We need to hear differing opinions, from both liberals and conservatives on college campuses.

Even a seventh-grader would know that.

Country has bigger problems to solve than legal immigrant benefits

statue of liberty

Nobody gets into the country illegally. That’s been President Donald Trump’s message to his base, and it’s been well received. Now, though, he’s adding that nobody gets into the country legally without showing that he or she can be self-supporting for the first five years. He shared this message at a recent Cedar Rapids visit, and his supporters gave raucous accent.

On the surface, it makes sense. Many taxpaying citizens are not fond of punching a time clock for 40 hours a week, just to hand over part of that paycheck to new arrivals seeking immediate government handouts.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 already states that immigrants are not eligible for any federal means-tested public benefit for five years after arriving in our country. If not independently wealthy, it means that many require sponsors either through an employer who promises paychecks that are sufficient enough to be self-supporting or through an individual—often a relative—who promises to provide for the immigrant financially if paychecks fall short.

But emergency medical care, public health assistance, school lunch programs and other benefits are still available to immigrants and are exceptions to the rules. And although it may take a permanent legal resident up to six years to become a naturalized citizen, the household qualifies for some assistance immediately once a child is born on U.S. soil. Lastly, the five year rule is not so awfully long. After that period, a greater number of government programs become available.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, a 2012 report showed that legal immigrant households, receiving assistance, consumed $6,378 annually in government benefits.

Nobody wants to deny lifesaving health care, and every child should have their basic needs met. But this shows that taxpayer dollars are, indeed, finding their way into the homes of immigrants.

I get what the president is after. We want to be the land of hope and opportunity, not the land of generosity that can be easily manipulated.

Six thousand dollars, though, isn’t enough to support a family. It means that immigrants are working. They’re just not earning enough to provide for their family. Unfortunately, there’s a difference between working full time and being self-supporting.

The solution to the immigration and welfare problem isn’t to limit newcomers to just those who already possess the skills, education or wealth to be completely self-sufficient upon arriving in our country. We can certainly welcome the elite immigrant, but it seems a little harsh to deny legal immigration to individuals without those advantages.

A better approach to further reduce benefits to immigrants is to increase the federal minimum wage. This is the legislation that Trump should be promoting. Small businesses can absorb a reasonable increase (not a ridiculous 100 percent increase to $15.00 as some advocate), and it would give immigrants and all workers a better chance of supporting their families without government assistance.

People will continue to legally arrive in our country and receive government benefits, no matter what Trump would like to propose. The sensible goal is to strive to keep benefits at a minimum. We’re not a country that refuses emergency medical care. And once children are born in the United States, they become citizens. A household with low wages then qualifies for assistance that not even Congress or the president can take away. Trump’s time would be better spent on solving the illegal immigration problem.

The inscription on the Statue of Liberty states, “Give me your tired, your hungry, your huddled masses…” That belief system seems to be in direct conflict or tension with attempts to allow only self-supporting immigrants or the elite into the country.

Over the years, the huddled masses have done their part to build our country and build a better future for the next generation. More want to do the same.

Trump is a self-described builder. He should recognize that same desire in others.

Adoption subsidies and home-schooling can be lethal combination

blue ribbonTaxpayers are funding adoption subsidies that sometimes provide a generous, supplemental income to abusive parents.

It’s an unintended consequence of a well-meaning law. Until the 1980 Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, foster parents were discouraged from adopting children because foster care payments ended once the adoption went through. The new law gave an adoption subsidy close to what was received in foster care payments. It was for those who had a lot of love to give—but maybe not the financial resources—to adopt hard to place children out of foster care.

Foster parents, though, are closely monitored. Those with full adoptive parental rights are not.

A hard to place or special needs child is defined as a Caucasian child who is eight years of age or older, a minority child who is two years or older, or a child with physical, mental or emotional problems. According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, parents who adopt a hard to place child out of Iowa’s foster care system may receive monthly payments of up to $500 – $900, depending upon their special needs status.

That’s for one child. Multiply the money when more children are involved. The subsidy is an entitlement, and the adoptive family’s income is not considered when negotiating financial support.

For the average family trying to provide a loving home for these children, the subsidy is likely not enough. And, it’s not why they do it. Most want to give these forgotten kids a permanent home and a good start in life. The subsidies are just one tool they can use to help provide for the well-being and needs of their adopted children.

On the other hand, abusers see foster kids as dollar signs. These adoptive parents use subsidies as supplemental income that will benefit themselves—not the children. If money didn’t come attached to the kids, there would be little interest in adopting them.

Once the adoption goes through, abusive parents can use home-schooling as a method to isolate these unwanted children and conceal neglect and abuse.

Three recent cases in Iowa show the vulnerability of these children. Natalie Finn, 16, died of emaciation. Malayia Knapp, 17, ran away from her home, reported abuse to the police, and is a survivor. Sabrina Ray, 16, was found dead in her home. Initial reports are that she was severely malnourished.

All three girls were adopted out of foster care and being home-schooled by parents, who were receiving adoption subsidies.

These cases have been so distressing that in an effort to find a fix, some want all parents who home-school their children to submit to new regulations.

But home-schooling, alone, is not the problem. Many children, from all walks of life, are achieving excellent academic results and are thriving in the home-schooling atmosphere.

Adoption subsidies, alone, are not the problem either. Many children have found a loving and permanent home with a family that would not be possible without this financial support.

The problem is the potentially lethal combination of the two. Isolation plus money equals a fraud that can kill. And taxpayer dollars are funding it.

When there’s public money involved, there needs to be transparency. If parents are accepting adoption subsidies, it should be under the condition that the children be enrolled in public or private schools. It’s not enough for Iowa’s Department of Human Services to become involved after a complaint is filed. One visit does not compare to regular observations from the public or private school system.

Whenever tragedy strikes, there’s a tendency to overreact. We don’t need to shut down home schools or discontinue adoption subsidies. Both do a lot of good. We do, though, need to look at the link between home-schooling and adoption subsidies.

It’s a false narrative to say that Natalie Finn fell through the cracks. It implies that she was an unfortunate enigma, but that all is well everywhere else. And all the while, Malayia, Sabrina, and an unknown number of other children suffer.

It’s not a crack. It’s a chasm, and it demands a policy change.

Equality of sacrifice needed in health care reform

eq of sac

Image by Shutterstock

Legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, like to say they support small businesses. It’s one of the easier stands to make. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, small businesses account for nearly 50 percent of private-sector employment and 64 percent of all new job creation.

For many, it’s also the American dream to own a business. The challenge and freedom to control one’s destiny is why there are so many new ventures each year.

Small businesses are an economic force, and the many constituents running them are people that lawmakers would like to keep happy.

That is, until health insurance enters the conversation. Then, it seems that legislators are intent on making decisions that harm these entities.

Many small business owners and their employees rely on the individual market to secure health insurance. Obamacare has devastated this group—people who are working and striving to provide a comfortable standard of living for their family but aren’t able to pay $1,400 or more in monthly premiums for deductibles of $10,000 and higher.

The Republicans’ first plan to replace Obamacare involved eliminating the requirement to carry insurance but continuing the practice of covering all pre-existing conditions for those who do purchase insurance. It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that keeping high-risk factors and then spreading them among an even smaller pool of participants doesn’t pencil out.

Former President Bill Clinton was wrong when he said that Obamacare was the, “craziest thing in the world.” The Republicans’ initial replacement plan was the craziest.

Here in Iowa, Republican Reps. Rod Blum and David Young, along with Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack stated that they would not support the measure. Republican Rep. Steve King approved of it, although he at least championed the removal of several Obamacare mandates that have contributed to soaring premiums in the individual market.

Iowa can be proud that most of its U.S. representatives acted sensibly. Many from other states, though, put party loyalty ahead of constituent loyalty and were dangerously close to pushing through a health care “fix” that would have made the already bad situation of Obamacare even worse. The measure was never brought to a vote, but it showed what little, serious thought lawmakers put into an issue that does not directly affect them and their personal and generous taxpayer-funded health insurance.

Lee Iacocca helped to coin the phrase, “equality of sacrifice.” In the early ‘80s, as head of the failing Chrysler Corporation, he reduced his executive salary to $1 for one year and in return asked his many union employees to take a pay cut in order to keep the company afloat. In “Iacocca: An Autobiography,” Iacocca said, “Although my reduced salary didn’t mean I had to skip any meals, it still made a big statement in Detroit. I discovered that people accept a lot of pain if everybody’s going through the chute together. If everybody is suffering equally, you can move a mountain.”

Health care reform is a mountain that needs to be moved. Perhaps all 535 members in Congress should agree that whatever health care plan they come up with must also apply to them.

If small businesses must suffer, legislators can stand in solidarity with the self-employed and suffer along with them. Premiums may remain high while we’re seeing our way through this disaster, but the pain may feel not quite as sharp knowing that those in Washington, D.C. are going through it too.

If lawmakers had some skin in the game, maybe they’d be able to show genuine concern for small businesses and come up with a health care plan that makes sense.

A Lenten offering of being fully present

Jesus Martha Mary

Image by Nancy Bauer/Shutterstock.

Finding a balance in life seems to be a never-ending challenge. There’s the work-play balance, spend-save balance, picking your battles-choosing your compromises balance, and many more.

One challenge that I’ve become increasingly aware of is the balance between digital presence and personal presence—social media or “social me.”

Social media is efficient. We can get a lot of communicating done with our smart phones and laptops, and we’re doing more and more of it. The Statistics Portal estimates that in 2016 the average person spent almost two hours daily on digital social networking.

Social me is not so efficient. When there are moments of downtime scattered throughout the day, I reach for my smart phone to fill in that time and check in on Facebook friends and family. Personal phone calls and visits don’t always make the cut. It’s just too easy to like and scroll.

We’re wired to our devices when really, we humans are wired for real connectivity. Too much social media can make us more efficient with our relationships, but less effective. Most of us would much rather receive the warmth of a phone call or visit from a friend than a sterile like on our Facebook status.

Nobody would want to go back to the days before digital communication. Our life is better with technological advances. Sometimes a comment on Facebook is all the time we have to let someone know that we’re thinking of them. And that’s something. Being on the receiving end of those comments is also appreciated.

But back to balance. Five or 50 “likes” still isn’t equal to one real and meaningful conversation where we are listened to and heard. Digital presence is fine if it doesn’t usurp personal presence. Time spent on social media should at least not surpass time spent enjoying phone calls and visits.

Recognizing my own increasing use of social media, I decided to make Lent the time to cut back on keypads and ramp up on personal conversations. Like any habit, it’s been surprisingly hard to make an adjustment. My goal is to limit my daily social media time to the same amount of social me time that I’m able to treasure—to find a balance. Electronic conversations still happen, but not more so than the personal ones.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches how important it is to be fully present to others. He visits two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha busies herself with tasks in an effort to be a good hostess, while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens intently to him. And of this Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better part…” Offering food and drink remains a great act of hospitality, but it is not more important than listening to and connecting with your guest.

Social media will never be a suitable substitute for “social us.”

It’s time to go for the gold in education

gold-medal-usaEducation reform and the reduction in poverty must be tackled simultaneously to improve our education system.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development launched the Program for International Student Assessment in 2000 as a tool to assess education achievement on an international level. In 2000, there were just 41 countries reporting data. That year, the United States ranked 16th in reading, 20th in math, and 15th in science. Finland, Canada and New Zealand took first, second and third in reading while Hong Kong, Japan, and the Republic of Korea took the top three spots in math and science.

The 2015 PISA report included data from 70 countries. The United States ranked 23rd in reading, 39th in math and 25th in science. Singapore and Hong Kong were the education heavyweights.

Americans are more competitive than that. We want the gold, the silver, or at least the bronze—not 39th.

But when it comes to education, we tend to lose our all-in, competitive drive to succeed and instead fall back on protective, territorial natures.

New Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, has received blistering opposition from teachers’ unions and others. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association, said that she is, “…dangerously unqualified and lacks the experience we demand…”

But teaching experience hasn’t historically produced exceptional results in this leadership role. During the first 15 years of the PISA report, Rod Paige, a former superintendent for the Houston Independent School District, served as Education Secretary during the Bush Administration and Arne Duncan, a former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, served for the Obama Administration. Going from 20th in math out of 41 countries in 2000 to 39th in math out of 70 countries in 2015 is not an improvement, despite having very qualified and experienced educators at the helm.

DeVos gave a less than stellar performance at her confirmation hearing, but one theme that stood out was her desire to empower parents. Nobody cares more about the education of our children than their parents. Maybe it’s time to allow them greater decision-making through school choice. If private schools were to receive public funds, though, it should be required that these institutions—just like public schools—be non-selective in accepting students and be accountable and transparent through standardized and reported testing.

The competitive scramble for those finite, public dollars could affect infrastructure. High performing schools may expand. Low performing schools may close. One thing that won’t change is that we will always have parents who want the best for their kids, students who want the opportunity to realize their full potential, and teachers who want to help them reach their dreams. The particular building in which they accomplish that is less important.

But even a monumental decision to implement school choice wouldn’t solve the poverty factor. Teachers have been telling us for a long time that student poverty is one of the greatest challenges they face in successfully educating our youth.

According to both the OECD and UNICEF, the United States has one of the highest relative (less than one-half the nation’s median income) childhood poverty rates among developed nations. The argument that poverty is affecting the success that teachers have in the classroom has merit, and it’s not the job of the educator to fix that. That responsibility belongs to our legislators.

Legislators must do everything possible to bring good-paying jobs to their state. For those families still struggling in low-paying jobs, an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $9.00 could be a real help. Small businesses have shown that reasonable increases can be absorbed.

It’s tough to instantly produce good-paying jobs, but raising the minimum wage is entirely within their power. Until legislators increase the minimum wage, they cannot sincerely say that they are doing their part to improve education.

We must do something different to better compete at the international level on education. School choice has been talked about for decades. Perhaps the time has come to act instead of talk. Trusting parents, instead of the government, to make education choices for our youth might be the sea change that is needed.

If we can make bold moves and reduce poverty, maybe we could even medal at the 2030 PISAs.