Once they have fully sorted out the present debacle, I hope our elected representatives will have the courage to ask us to take ownership of our part in preventing future financial messes.

We — individuals, companies, communities, everyone — need to be reminded that each time we ask for something from our government, we must be willing to pay for it. The government is us.

We elect people to take our ideas and concerns to our state capitals and to Washington and blend them together with the ideas and concerns of everyone else in order to determine what the government can most appropriately provide, and to toss the rest back to us to work on.

There are some things that it does indeed make sense for the government to do — things that we want to be sure are available to all people with some degree of equality, things that are about us as a nation.

There are other things that we can do more locally, maybe even by ourselves, that are about situations unique to who and where we are, and do not have nationwide pertinence.

Whatever the best way to accomplish what we want, we need to be thoughtful participants in the process of sorting that out.

The president and Congress are elected to lead us as best they can with the money we give them. It is time to be honest with each other and do the hard work together.

Elizabeth Ring

South Freeport 

Surprising isn’t it that it has never occurred to members of Congress to help reduce spending by cutting their own salaries or benefits?

Their current annual salary of $174,000 (nearly $20,000 more for House majority and minority leaders and nearly $50,000 more for speaker of the House) is equaled only by their generous retirement benefits.

A full pension is available to members 62 years of age with five years of service; 50 years or older with 20 years of service; or at any age with 25 years of service, whereas most American workers must wait until they are at least 65.

Even the late former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., convicted of embezzling his office stamp allowance, received over $96,000 a year (only treason can preclude federal lawmakers from receiving their pensions).

And disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., with only 12 years in office, is eligible for a basic pension worth about $37,000 a year once he reaches the retirement age.

Just bringing congressional pensions in line with private pensions would save taxpayers some $100 million a year, Money magazine estimated in a recent article.

While congresspeople may refer to themselves as public servants, they in fact treat themselves as members of an elite club who are too important to receive the same salaries and benefits as other civil servants.

Serving in Congress should be considered an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators who served their country one or two terms and then went back to their original careers (much like our state legislators), not career lawmakers who manipulate the system to their advantage.

Sally B. Trice

Portland 

The dictionary defines compromise as “a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.”

The extremist elements in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, obviously do not accept this definition of compromise. They demand the other side “modify their demands” while they are adamant in refusing to “modify their own demands.”

They scornfully dismiss compromise as a sign of weakness that may hamper their bids for re-election.

Under the Bush-Cheney administration we invaded Iraq to depose a tyrant and, incredibly, to bring “democracy” to the oppressed people of that nation.

The current members of our governing body, elected by a trusting, hopeful nation, have demonstrated an appalling exhibition of “democracy in action” to the world.

Have we sacrificed so many lives, both military and civilian, expended so much of our national treasure just to export this distorted version of “democracy?”

Phyllis Kamin

Cumberland 

It’s instructive to listen to what was not brought up in the debt ceiling debate.

Over the past 30 years, we have twice plunged into massive debt to fund tax breaks for the rich and to escalate military spending. These causes, ironically, are never put on the table when that same debt gets out of control.

The Reagan and George W. Bush presidencies show a similar trend of steep increases in federal debt following periods of steady decline. The parallels are many: the 1981 “supply side” tax cuts and the 2001 “Bush-era” tax cuts; military interventions in Latin America and, under Bush, in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the same rapidly widening gap between the rich and everyone else.

The long-term implications are profound. The rich get richer, not only in terms of income but, more importantly, in terms of wealth. Extra income can be invested in homes, stocks and other investment opportunities. This wealth can then be passed down and/or borrowed against for generations to come.

Not so for those in lower income brackets. A recent analysis of Census data, for example, revealed whites’ median net worth was $113,000 in 2009 (a 13 percent drop from 2005), compared to $5,700 for the median African-American family (a 53 per cent drop).

While limited opportunity to build wealth is not solely a race issue, it has racial dimensions. African-Americans, for instance, have consistently been restricted in their opportunities to build wealth: 400 years of slavery, segregation, systematic exclusion from the post-WWII home-ownership boom, and recent widespread redirection to high-interest subprime loans when qualified for regular mortgages.

We should judge our government and ourselves by how well we provide access to the American Dream; the silences in the debt debate speak to how poorly we live up to our ideals.

Ryan Swank

Stow 

The fight to raise the debt ceiling highlights how ineffective our political leaders have become.

Regardless of your opinion on the issue, the fact that we have politicians squabbling like children, blaming the “other” party, unwilling to work together for the good of our country highlights the absolute need to elect new leaders.

The Patriot Proclamation (goooh.com/PatriotProclamationMaster.pdf), calling on America to fire Congress, recently appeared in USA Today and the Houston Chronicle. The sponsoring group, www.GOOOH.com, offers a non-partisan plan to elect citizen legislators and end the madness in Washington.

I respectfully request that your paper print the proclamation for your readers to consider.

Thomas Morganstern

Falmouth 

Washington is out of touch. Aren’t there ways that we can put them in touch? How about a three-part constitutional amendment that will expose Congress to the things that we the people care about ?

Here is the amendment:

Item 1 — Congress shall receive the same pension coverage that Congress provides to U.S. citizens. No additional pension benefits shall be provided.” Result? Taxpayers will save money, as we’ll no longer fund generous congressional pensions. And Social Security benefits will become secure and might even mysteriously increase!

Item 2 — “Congress shall receive the same health insurance granted to U.S. citizens over 65. No additional health insurance shall be provided.” Result? No more expensive private congressional health insurance funded by taxpayers. And all congresspersons can find out first hand how much coverage Medicare provides. Do you think Congress will ever again raid the Medicare funds paid with our taxes ?

Item 3 — “Congress shall be paid hourly, at a rate no more than 7 times the federal minimum hourly wage.” Result? Attendance would go up. Long weekend hours. Bills would be welcomed, and read. Support for increasing the minimum wage would be very high. And Congress would frown at corporations that tolerate multi-million dollar CEO salaries while their employees are paid just $6.25 an hour. Tired, overworked, underpaid Congressmen would hear that and laugh those CEO’s out of their chambers.

Washington in touch at last. What a concept!

Margo Donnis

South Portland 

I’m furious at our Washington politicians. How dare they say that there won’t be any Social Security checks if they don’t raise the debt ceiling. The money is still coming out of our paychecks.

They have been skimming the system for so long that they’ve forgotten it’s not their money to spend. Like the overpayment of income taxes, that money should be returned, not appropriated.

Do our president and congresspersons think we’re stupid?

We don’t need to make our problems worse and raise the debt ceiling. There are plenty of ways to cut spending. Go to a flat tax system that would cut the IRS bureaucracy and get rid of loopholes. Get rid of Freddie Mac and Frannie Mae; the savings would be enormous. Get rid of the Department of Education, which has done nothing to smarten up our kids. Place a moratorium on all immigration

Until the unemployment rate gets to 4 percent, Congress needs to tie the president’s hands. He had no business giving $15 billion we don’t have to Greece.

Cut congressional and presidential staffs. When a problem in the health care and other bills is mentioned, the politicians’ favorite excuse is that they didn’t have time to read it. Why spend millions for staff that aren’t keeping their bosses informed.

There are ways to fix our budget mess if the politicians did their job. Come the next election, we voters, as a nation, no matter how slick the campaign, need to decide if we should send any incumbent back.

Patricia Bernard

Portland 

All of us have been extremely upset with the game of “chicken” played in Washington with our economy. However, one person has caught my attention for truly demonstrating what representing the people has turned into — Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Several times in the past several weeks he has been in the press or on TV, spouting off about issues that certainly should be carefully reviewed.

He has supported the substantial tax breaks afforded participants and owners of hedge funds, saying that to eliminate them would negatively affect business growth. What he doesn’t tell you is that Wall Street has poured over $2 million into his re-election war chest.

It’s symptomatic of the dysfunction that the whole political scene has been caught up in and won’t be changed until some disastrous default.

Cantor’s own party members suggested that he should not be at the bargaining table because he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. That is sad.

While America still has some economic strength, our common sense is greatly being swayed by individual egos. The first step should be to strip congresspeople of all their outlandish perks — health coverage, pensions, etc.

I do not begrudge them the $170,000 salary, but the way they use their positions to benefit themselves versus focusing on constituents borders on the criminal.

Frank Parker

Freeport