Don't Sue Gephardt

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The
Washington insider magazine, The Hill, reports
that the American Conservative Union recently filed a lawsuit against
Rep Dick Gephardt (D-MO) for not showing up to work. It seems that
Rep. Gephardt was so busy campaigning for president that he missed
over 90% of all House votes. The ACU cited an old law from the 1850s
that states, "The Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Administrative
Officer of the House … shall deduct from the monthly payments (or
other periodic payment authorized by law) of each Member or Delegate
the amount of his salary for each day that he has been absent from
the Senate or House, respectively, unless such Member or Delegate
assigns as the reason for such absence the sickness of himself or
of some member of his family."

Technically,
it seems that Rep. Gephardt is in violation of the law, and I would
lose little sleep if he had his pay garnished. But it got me thinking,
do we really want to discourage our lawmakers from not showing up
to work?

David
Keene, president of the ACU, argues that Rep. Gephardt is failing
to perform his duties for the citizens in his district. While he
is taking $157,000 dollars of their tax dollars for his own salary,
I would be more concerned about the billions of dollars he allows
the government to take when he bothers to show up to work.

Mr.
Keene also asks, "Can you name another job in which someone
can consistently miss nine out of every 10 days and still receive
a full paycheck? Unless Dick Gephardt can produce a note from his
doctor, he owes the taxpayers an explanation or back pay."

The
problem with this question is that it ignores the difference between
the private and public sector. Most people's jobs in the private
sector consist of making voluntary exchanges for the betterment
of themselves and the nation as a whole. Most employers in the private
sector have strong standards and accountability for their employees,
because they have to pay workers' salaries out of their own pocket.
They also have to worry about being out performed by their competitors
if their employees are not productive. Government, by contrast,
has a monopoly on the use of force and can simply loot the public
or print up money to pay their employees. How can you expect an
institution like that to be accountable?

Rather
than compare politicians to workers in the private sector, it may
be more instructive to compare them to thieves. If a thief is supposed
to make 100 robberies a year, but got lazy and only makes 10 heists,
no one would complain. In fact, most people would suggest that the
thief try to cut out his stealing all together and make an honest
living. Similarly, rather than encourage Gephardt to go to work
more often so he can impose more taxes, more spending, more regulation,
and more wars, we should tell him to stop showing up completely
and get a real job.

When
Rep. Gephardt makes it to work, you would wish that he just stayed
home. In 2002, when he was much less truant, Gephardt voted
to approve the use of force in Iraq, to give illegal aliens extended
residency, to increase funding for the NEH, for campaign finance
reform laws, and for a host of other unconstitutional and wasteful
programs. This year he was absent during the votes to appropriate
over nine billion of dollars in foreign aid, 470 billion dollars
to the Labor, Health and Human Service, and Education departments.
In fact, for his few votes he did make (such as voting against George
Bush's horrendous prescription drug program), Gephardt got a perfect
rating on the John Birch Society's conservative
index
! Obviously it would be even more preferable if he voted
against all the unconstitutional legislation like "Dr. No,"
Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), but I'll take half a loaf.

At
the time of the founding, Congress was only in session a few months
out of the year. They didn't have much to vote on because the federal
government, for the most part, stuck to its constitutional limitations.
Today, there are not enough days in a year for politicians to push
all their statist policies through.

Imagine
if all of Congress simply decided to stay home all year long. They
wouldn't be able to pass all of their wonderful innovative ideas
like spending trillions of dollars to go invade half the world (and
now even other
planets
), invite millions of Third Worlders to the country,
and create new departments, entitlements, and burdensome regulations.

Instead
of chiding Gephardt for not showing up for work, we should encourage
all politicians to take an indefinite sick leave.

January
16, 2004

Marcus Epstein
[send him mail]
is an undergraduate majoring in history at the College of William
and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, where he is an editor of the conservative
newspaper, The
Remnant.
A
selection of his articles can be seen here
.

Marcus
Epstein
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