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Can we lock Congress out?

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
November 21, 2011 -- Updated 1333 GMT (2133 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says members of Congress deserve to be locked out of the Capitol if they can't agree on debt solution.
Dean Obeidallah says members of Congress deserve to be locked out of the Capitol if they can't agree on debt solution.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Congress looks unlikely to reach a deficit reduction deal by deadline
  • Dean Obeidallah: Follow NBA owners' example and lock out members of Congress
  • The only way to force dramatic change is to limit congressional terms, he says
  • Obeidallah: Stop political posturing, make a deal and revive nation's economy

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah is a comedian who has appeared on Comedy Central's "Axis of Evil" special, ABC's "The View," CNN's "What the Week" and HLN's "The Joy Behar Show." He is executive producer of the annual New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and the Amman Stand Up Comedy Festival. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- If the congressional "super committee" does not reach a deficit reduction deal by Wednesday's legally mandated deadline, I propose we take a page from the NBA owners and lock Congress out.

I'm serious. We, the taxpayers, are the owners of Congress and if Congress won't make a deal that helps our nation, then let's put a big padlock on the doors of the House and Senate -- or at least change the locks and not give them the keys.

Polls show that me and apparently 91% of my fellow Americans have never been more frustrated with the dysfunctional nature of "our" Congress. Congress' approval rating has fallen to an abysmal 9% -- to put this in perspective, herpes is now slightly more popular than Congress. Bed bugs really can't be that far behind.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

I'm not sure who the 9% of voters are who think Congress is doing a good job -- I can only assume it's Congress' friends and families as well as some of the well-connected lobbyists who have reaped benefits.

Maybe the 9% are those pleased when Congress made history in August after waiting until the last minute to compromise on a budget deal, which led to the first downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor's.

Or possibly the 9% were impressed when House Democrats and Republicans joined together in a rare moment of bipartisanship a few weeks ago and voted in favor of a resolution by a whopping 396-9.

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Was this vote to create jobs for the more than 25 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed? Or maybe this vote was to help Americans on the brink of foreclosure?

Nope, this vote was to address an issue that Congress felt demanded immediate attention: Affirming that our national motto is: "In God We Trust."

Wow, that should really put some food on the table of a hungry family whose unemployment benefits are close to expiring. I hope you take the time to "thank" Rep. J. Randy Forbes, a Republican from Virginia, for leading the courageous charge on that issue.

Instead of a congressional lock out, perhaps Donald Trump could host a new TV show entitled: "Congressional Apprentice," where each week members of Congress are given a task to help our nation. Those who fail will be met by Trump gleefully declaring: "Congressman ... You're fired!"

I'm at the point that when I hear about a king in a foreign nation dissolving the legislature in his country, I almost wish our president could do the same.

Despite all its negatives, Congress can take credit for one positive achievement: Inspiring more Americans to become engaged in politics as witnessed by both the rise of the Occupy movement and the tea party movement. Congress' failures have awakened both the left and the right of the American electorate.

I hope that both the Occupy and tea party groups (and everyone else in the middle) can agree on a concrete change to our electoral system, namely: Term limits for Congress. Even though Congress' approval rating had fallen to 21% at the time of the November 2010 congressional mid-term elections, the inherent advantages of incumbency for members of Congress are so powerful that still 87% of incumbents in the House and 90% in the Senate won re-election.

Term limits would mandate a turnover in the composition of Congress so that federal elected officials no longer focus on political concerns and making a career out of serving in Congress but instead on enacting legislation that benefits all Americans in the short time they will serve.

Term limits are the only way to ensure meaningful change of our Congress. But that won't be easy. To impose congressional term limits, the U.S. Constitution must be amended -- just as it was with the 22nd amendment, which set a term limit for our president. The problem is that absent a constitutional convention, the only way to start the process for a Constitutional amendment is that Congress -- the people with a 9% approval rating -- have to pass it by a two-thirds vote in each chamber before it can be sent for the required approval by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Good luck getting Congress to agree on that.

Our best and most practical hope is asking candidates running for Congress to make a personal pledge to limits of two terms in the Senate and three in the House.

Congress, though, still has a chance to atone for its mistakes. It's like at the end of the holiday classic, "The Christmas Carol" when Ebenezer Scrooge awoke on Christmas morning, and after realizing he still had a chance to redeem himself, joyfully declared: "I haven't missed it. "

Well, Congress, you have almost missed it. While we don't have three ghosts to warn you, we do have hundreds of millions of Americans sending you a message: Stop the political posturing, make a deficit reduction deal and then work together to revive our nation's economy.

If not, there are numerous locksmiths in the Washington area who promise that they can change locks within 15 minutes.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

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