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December 16, 2011

Stripping the Power from Washington

Joe Charlebois

Conservative attempts at scaling back the overreaching power that the Washington establishment has garnered over the past 50 years has been like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill time and time again just to watch it roll back down.


Just when they close in on their push for reform – in sight of the “Shining City on the Hill” – the boulder just keeps rolling back down.


Now in 2012, conservatives may have what could be the best way to limit the influence of lobbyists and powerful constituency groups. Attempts to put in place measures are being presented by two current senators and a presidential candidate that would limit the power that Congress could wield. It would be two grand steps in putting this country’s fiscal house back in order.


Currently there are two different proposals that, if combined, would greatly limit the influence of politicians and curtail the likelihood that senators and representatives would become career politicians. Neither of these involves term limits.


Presidential candidate Rick Perry, governor of Texas, has proposed the return to a citizen legislature. A proposal whereby the House of Representatives and United States Senate would become part-time legislative bodies, one where members would not be the thoroughly entrenched Washington residents that they have become.


The other proposal comes in the form of an amendment to the United States Constitution. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R., UT) and Mike Lee (R., UT) offered the amendment that would restrain the spending of the Congress through an amendment to the Constitution that would balance the budget by capping levels of spending.


As it is now, Congress has no real limits on spending. It just continues to bend to every “needy” constituency or lobbyist resulting in a never-ending cycle of spending and electoral immortality. The members live in Washington and go home when the legislative session ends instead of living in their home districts and leaving for Washington for legislative sessions.


Mr. Perry points out that members of Congress have become “creatures of Washington” and that the system pays them far more than their constituencies in their home districts and that living in Washington detaches them from the realities of true representation.


The first part of taming the Washington beast is laid out by Mr. Perry.   He would cut – by half or more – the budget for congressional staff and congressional pay and a push for part-time legislators. He proposes a requirement that tax increases could be passed only after a 2/3rds majority voting in favor. He would privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He would look to eliminate federal agencies that duplicate states efforts (Department of Education) or are, in his opinion, not in the purview of federal oversight (Commerce Department/Department of Energy).


Sens. Hatch and Lee outline a proposed amendment that would balance the budget. They would do so in a way that would slowly reduce expenditures while funding the critical programs and maintaining a strong Department of Defense. Failure to do so would cripple an already fragile economy.


Senator Lee points out that our gross domestic product (GDP) has historically been capable of generating a revenue stream of a little over 18%. On this consistent number the Senate Joint Resolution 10 is based.


The Hatch-Lee Balanced Budget Amendment proposal bases the rate of all spending on the country’s ability to raise tax revenues. Currently there is no restriction on the level of borrowing that Congress can demand.


Nearly 100 years ago Congress attempted to put a halt to the amount borrowed by establishing a debt-limit. What we have seen – especially in the last decade and more specifically the last four years – is a continual rising of the debt limit with little opposition (except for this past summer).


The Balanced Budget Amendment proposed by Sens. Hatch and Lee would also take into consideration debts incurred from war or other armed military conflict. In time of war the amount of spending over the threshold would be limited to the amount needed to prosecute the war. In time of a military conflict a 3/5ths majority would be required to override the budgetary limits also holding to the amount needed to pay for the conflict.


Other proposed plans which include the possibility of simple majority tax increases will only perpetuate the cycle of overspending. It puts the burden on the taxpayer – both current and future – to pay for the uncontrolled spending. These plans do nothing to curb the Congress’ insatiable hunger for more governmental control through spending.


In the end, whether or not Mr. Perry wins the presidential election next November, or the Hatch/Lee amendment fails to pass in the 112th Congress, the next president should incorporate these two proposals into the core of his administration if the financial soundness of our country is to ever be regained.


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