Monday, February 14, 2005

A modest proposal guaranteed to cut the annual deficit- fast!

The Republicans are idiots when it comes to managing government and geniuses when it comes to manipulating opinion about who is mismanaging government. Would that it were the other way around.

Here's a suggestion that's guaranteed to succeed on many fronts. Right now we have a runaway Congress with no incentive to save money and plenty of incentive to spend (sorry, fellow Democrats, but this isn't a partisan point- it goes both ways). We have awful campaigns based on distortions and lies. We have a Congress and a Presidency that are openly for sale to the highest bidder (again, this is bi-partisan). We have a Congress that won't go away, in spite of the term limits promised by the Republicans' 1994 Contract on America.

So here's my suggestion: Pick a benchmark for the deficit- the real deficit, not the fake one that doesn't include supplemental "emergency" appropriations for a planned war in its third year, and does count (but shouldn't) Social Security surpluses against the deficit to reduce it. Say that number turns out to be $500 billion. Starting today, every year's actual deficit spending after this fiscal year ends will be compared to the previous year's deficit. For every billion dollars the deficit is reduced, ten percent of that amount goes to Congress and the President. Half of that ten percent is devoted solely to public financing of all federal elections and reforming and updating all election machines and procedures- including a mandatory paper trail for all ballots. Public financing means that candidates for Congress and the President can no longer raise (ask for or collect) private funds from any person or entity.

The remaining five percent is divided equally among 536 people- 435 Representatives, 100 Senators, and the President. They are the people entrusted by the Constitution to appropriate funds and approve spending bills. The V.P. gets an additional share only if he's called on to vote to break a tie in a spending or appropriations bill. That money must be held in trust and will be turned over to the Congressman, Senator, or President on the first day of retirement.

Each year the target number is pegged to the lowest annual deficit since the plan began. That way the figure can't be artificially increased so that "savings" will occur when it is lowered again.

The result? Congress will be more responsive to the electorate than to the big dollar givers because public financing will reduce the need to start begging and selling one's soul the day after election. The deficit will go down, because every member of Congress and the President will finally have a real incentive to cut the cost of government- they will each retire as millionaires if they shave only $11 billion from the total budget deficit- 5% of which is $550 million. If they shave $110 billion, they'll all get $10 million apiece when they retire. If we ever get back to surpluses (has it only been four years since the Clinton $160 billion surplus?) we can still give them 10 percent of the increase in the surpluses as the national debt is slowly paid down.

Congressmen and Senators will have a strong incentive to retire sooner with that big nest egg beckoning on the horizon, since they can't touch it until they're out of office. This also will reduce their need to immediately sign on as lobbyists for industries they shilled for while in office, which will reduce corruption while removing that friendly voice urging a spending bill to help one industry or another.

Anyway, it's a fun dream. And it would absolutely work.


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