06 October 2009

Today's Big Idea for Congress

I generally dislike term limits. They seem to me a way to ensure that the lobbyists have all the experience and the legislators are perpetually going - but never getting - up a learning curve. With that said, I'd like to propose term limits of a particular kind.

Here in California, we are about to provide the second recessionary dip courtesy of a mandated balanced budget. California's requirement that budgets be balanced inevitably exacerbate the highs and lows of business cycles. When the economy is booming, the state gets more revenues and floods the economy with some combination of tax cuts and spending. When the economy is faltering, the state gets less revenue and makes things worse by increasing taxes or cutting spending.

Governments need discretion to raise taxes and cut spending during booms and lower taxes and increase spending during recessions. Governments can offset swings in the economy.

But of course, once you give a legislature power to run deficits, there is no stopping them. And, as they did through most of the last administration, they run deficits even during a boom time.

So, how do we allow legislatures the power to offset recessions without enabling them to create chronic deficits? I'd like to propose a "three-deficits and you're out" policy. Members of Congress can vote for deficit spending - but only three times before they are out. They have the tool to offset recessions but not to avoid hard choices regarding spending cuts and tax increases.

This proposal might need one other provision to make sure that the legislature doesn't fail to offset recessions. Not only would they have only 3 deficits, but they'd be allowed nation-wide unemployment of only 10%. Local recall elections would be triggered by the third recession in a congress person's career and nationwide recall elections would be triggered by 10% unemployment rate.

And once we get that in place, I think that we ought to have a similar policy for the declaration of war. Knowing that they are ordering soldiers (and foreign civilians) to death by the declaration of war, a congressperson ought to be able to authorize only one war before hitting his or her quota. "Not only am I willing for our young people to die in this conflict, but I am sacrificing my own seat to authorize it."

I am aware that there are a few details that would need to be worked out, but as a blogger, my work is done.


Big Al said...


Deficit spending is only one variable of many exacerbating funding issues. There still exists in many (all?) government budgets, from the federal level down to the smallest city budget, the archaic motto of "If I don't spend all my budget for this year, next year's budget will be at a max no greater than what I spent this year." I was reminded of this recently when a close friend shared the story of a government employee walking into the farm implement store requesting to buy a tractor. "What kind? What are you planning to do?" "It doesn't matter. I have X amount of dollars left in my budget and I gotta' spend it or I'll get at least that much cut from next year's budget."

Government spending gorges when their is plenty yet can't go a diet when times are lean. My suggestion? Tie government pay and associated benefits to economic health indicators such as inflation, overall deficit, trade deficit & unemployment rate. If our country is doing well, our elected officials will be paid well. If our government is NOT doing well, our elected officials share in the pain and suffering.

Anonymous said...

I favor taking more of a Mafia approach to accountability: If you run a deficit you lose a finger, high unemployment and you lose a thumb, start a war and you're sleeping with the fishes.

David said...

We all hate war and even David Letterman likes a little peace now and then.

I was driving by the congressionally created dust bowl on my way home this week and it reminded me of the real problem. Congress. Want to hate something? Go for it.