Archive for the ‘Ten Reforms to Save America’ Category

Ted Cruz: “There Is an Alternative – You Could Just Not Be a Bunch of Squishes”

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Senator Ted Cruz(R-TX) was elected to office after a difficult primary campaign against Texas Lt. Governor, David Dewhurst. Let us be thankful for that.  He was instrumental in helping stop the gun control legislation that was shelved by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid(D-NV) last week.  In this video clip, he describes the reaction of the other Republican Senators who were angry with Cruz, as well as Mike Lee and Rand Paul, for daring to stand on principle.  Watch this video, from a little talk Senator Cruz had with the FreedomWorks Texas Summit:

Last week, there was the following news from Senator Cruz on another front:

 

 

You can see the full statement here.

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Ten Reforms to Save America: Reform Number Six

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Time For Change?

One of the problems that has always plagued us is the clear disconnect between taxation and electoral responsibility for those who legally raise them.  It’s not accidental that Tax Day is April 15th, a full six months before election day. I want Americans to hold elected representatives responsible for the fiscal condition of the country, and the taxes that condition will naturally necessitate.  Since our Federal elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of even years, I think we should move tax day to the first Monday in November.  The truth is that for quarterly filers, this won’t make so large a difference, and in the main, it would seem a symbolic measure, but I think that it’s a worthy symbol.  After all, many voters go to the polls thinking about what they want, but for a change, I think it would be better if when they start marking their ballots, they instead should be thinking about the costs.

Of course, this presents another problem that needs to be reformed.  For some of those voters, the day they file their tax return is an occasion for celebration rather than a day of mourning.  Some of that is because a fair number of people over-withhold throughout the year in order to avoid getting hit with a big tax bill, but more of it is because some people get refunds in excess of what they had withheld in income taxes altogether.  You might ask yourself how it is possible that one can receive a refund higher than one has paid in, but Congress has an answer:  The Earned Income Tax Credit.  Effectively, all you need to do is earn a minimal amount of income.  It doesn’t take much income to qualify, and then you are eligible to receive a credit that may be more(and usually is) than the amount of income taxes you’ve had withheld.

One of the constant scams is people who receive various welfare benefits will work a couple of months out of the year, at a low wage job or two, and this will be enough “earned income” to make them eligible for free money.  Some recipients actually refer to it as their “IRS Bonus check.”  I kid you not.  This program is also why we have 47% of tax return filers who pay no net income taxes.  For this segment of the population, there is no stigma attached to tax day, because for them, by the time April 15th rolls around, they’ve long since submitted their returns, gotten their refunds including their credit, and they’ve spent it.

Some of you will doubtless think I’m joking, or that I have somehow concocted this as some sort of literary device, but I assure you that it is real, and that like so many extensions of the welfare state, it acts as a disincentive to work.  Therefore, along with moving tax day, I submit that we make another law: No tax refunds of any ind in excess of what has been withheld.  It’s contrary to the notion of welfare as a hand up, and it’s opposed to the notion of the tax code as a program to raise federal revenues.  So long as we’re stuck with the 16th Amendment and the grotesque tax system it birthed, nobody should be receiving money as a net gain from the system of taxation, and besides: We’re constantly reminded that everyone should have some skin in the game.  I think that’s true, but when I say “everyone,” I actually mean it.  Combining these two reforms as one single step will cause more serious evaluations of candidates by voters.  If we’re going to save the country, it’s one more thing in the laundry list that we’ll need to fix.

 

Ten Reforms to Save America: Reform Number Five

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Returning Balance to Government

One of the problems most people acknowledge is that the power of the federal government has expanded so that it can no longer be effectively restrained as a matter of the checks and balances with which we are familiar.  One of the ways this has been accomplished is through the constant diminution of the sovereign authority of the states.  The concept of federalism is moribund, if not dead, and it has become clear to citizens that to affect anything of consequence most often entails dealing with the federal government.  Congress and presidents have felt empowered to inflict and impose mandates on state and local governments to a degree that is contrary to the entire notion of a federal constitutional republic.  Some wonder if this isn’t the natural result of the civil war, in which some of these issues were central, but the truth is that no other cause has inflicted more harm than the adoption of the 17th Amendment.  Until we restore the voices of the states, as sovereign institutions, there can be no fixing what is broken in Washington DC.  The 17th Amendment served to centralize power in Washington in a way that destroyed the balance of power.

Prior to the 17th Amendment, the members of the United States Senate were chosen by the legislatures of the several states.  This meant that the voice of the state governments was heard loudly in Washington, as their own sovereign powers flexed their political muscles.   There are those who claim that the 17th Amendment served to democratize the process, but the truth is something else again.  What really happened was to instead turn the senators into a sort of super-congressman, but rather than being equals, they now speak not for states as equal partners in the Constitution, but as elected masters of constituencies.  When they had been chosen by the legislatures of the states, they still spoke to the will of a state’s people, but through the indirect process of representation.  Since the legislatures are chosen by voters, and since the state governments are geographically closer to their people, the people have the ability to control them more effectively.  Moving this process to a direct vote of the people has served to water down the particular interests of state governments.  In short, in the name of democratization, the people were tricked into dis-empowering the states.  The costs have been grave.

It has also served to make things a good deal easier for the lobbying crowd.  There’s no necessity to maintain offices in fifty state capitals, as well as in Washington DC.  It’s one-stop shopping, and there’s no sense to pretend it’s otherwise.  Prior to the 17th Amendment, lobbyists had to work the state legislatures in support of national legislation, but state legislators frequently managed to pull the plug on federal bills that they saw as diminishing the power of the states.  Senators may have voted in Washington, but the nature of that vote was frequently responsive to the legislature back home, since that’s where the Senator was chosen.  As we should all know by now, most politicians are consumed with maintaining their power, so that they could not help but be attentive to the voice of legislators back home.  The problem with the will of the people as expressed through a direct election is that it is too diffuse and too distant.  A Senator that represents even a sparsely-populated state like Nebraska still needn’t be as attentive to his people as he would of necessity be with respect to his legislature.   The senator from a densely populated state like California needn’t pay attention to the people at all on day-to-day legislative matters.

When you consider the spending proclivities of the Federal government, what becomes clear is that it began to accelerate, and non-wartime debts first became politically feasible only after the states’ voices had been silenced in the Senate.  The states had a vested interest in restraining the growth of the federal government.  It is far more difficult to impose taxes at the state level if the federal government is raising them at every turn.  Worse, with the federal government imposing spending priorities on the states, it became even more difficult for states to manage their dwindling resources.

Taken together, all of these make a strong case for repealing the 17th Amendment.  The difficulty lies in the political proposition:  The people will need to be convinced that it is in their long-term interest to give up power over one branch of government in a direct way, that their state government, over which they exercise infinitely firmer control can manage it on their behalf.  Most people cringe at the thought.  It’s not every day you ask voters to give something up to which they have been accustomed, particularly in restraining their own direct voice.  Once they understand the issues at the heart of the matter, many people come around as they realize their direct voice has done no better, and may have done the harms I’ve described.  Our Constitution’s framers had been brilliant in creating the necessary balance to create a natural offset in powers between the federal government and the states, but the 17th Amendment destroyed that clever idea.  At this late date, if we’re to restore that balance, we must return to the framers’ notion of checks and balances, and the repeal of the 17th Amendment is a great place to start.  If you want to save the country, you may want to start right here.

Ten Reforms to Save America: Reform Number Four

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Is This How It Works?

Whatever we may do about the limiting of congressional terms, or the length of service of Congressional staff, one of the main reasons to tackle that problem is the revolving door between Congress and the lobbying interests in Washington DC.  Whether representing trade groups, corporations, unions, or other groups, the problem is that the lobbyists often know the lay of the land, both physical and political, better than many members of Congress.  Too often, members and staff leave those offices to become lobbyists, and with equal frequency, we find lobbyists becoming Congressional staff.  This cozy relationship will be ended only by doing something drastic:  We must enact a lifetime ban on lobbyists from serving in government, and government  officials or staff from going to work in the lobbying racket.

Once again, I can hear the squealing of all the pigs at the DC troughs: “You can’t do this to us!”  Yes, we the people can.  When most Americans think of politicians leaving office for the private sector, they think of them returning to work in some profession or field that takes them back home, away from Washington DC.  All too often, when politicians depart government service, where they land is in some lobbying firm.  This frequently applies to staff too.  For most Americans, this isn’t considered to be “private sector employment,” but instead merely “public sector looting.”  It’s part of what makes Washington DC stink of corruption, and most Americans suspect it is the reason we have so many complex and convoluted laws.  Naturally, the American people are right about that, but in most cases, they have only the a glimpse of how thorough the corruption is.

The other problem is that the American people have been conditioned to view lobbyists as the source of the problem.  They’re not.  Lobbyists are a symptom just like the runny nose, achy muscles and spiking fever that tells you you’ve been infected with influenza.  The virus is already there, and while you can treat the symptoms, and it will at least make you feel better, your body still must combat the illness or you’ll never recover.  Everybody harbors and image in their mind’s eye of some lobbyist, a briefcase full of cash, and some elected or appointed official waiting greedily to be in receipt of the loot.  The problem is, this isn’t what actually happens in most cases.  Outright bribery of that sort would be caught fairly easily, and the people involved would be dealt with under existing law.  It’s not to say this never happens, because it does, but that’s a fairly stupid politician or lobbyist who gets caught in that fashion.

Instead, there are other ways to enrich themselves, and most involve a kind of extortion racket, or kick-backs, or insider information to be used for personal profit.  Imagine you’re a business, and imagine  the business you’re in is one regulated in some fashion by the federal government(but which industry isn’t?)  Imagine that some politician introduces a bill that you know will effectively destroy your company, or make it easier for a competitor to displace you in the market?  Your inevitable response would be to play self-defense, and you would do that by lobbying Congress.  You might contribute to campaigns and parties, but in all cases, you’d try to make happy everybody who holds your business in the palms of their hands.  This kind of extortion racket is common, and what you discover is that the number of legal contributions “enticed” by this method is scandalous.

Naturally, this works the other way too, as a matter of offense.  Do you need a “competitive edge” in the market?  No problem for Congress.  They just pass a bill that either directly or indirectly fouls the business of your competitors, and “Bingo!” To ensure a Presidential signature, you make sure the provision is attached to the most popular legislation, or at least something certain to get the approval of those who run the show.

Imagine yours is a large concern.  One way to pay off folks for their good deeds on your behalf is to provide them information that will enable them to make a killing in the markets.  A bit of info here, and a little investment there, and before you know it: Instant Congressional millionaire.  Of course, the member just happened to “get lucky” in the market.  Consider how frequently members of Congress get in on the Initial Public Offering of stock in a company commencing public trading.  It’s obscene.  It’s not easy to get in on an IPO for most people, and insider information is frequently a good head-start.  Some have suggested that Congress ought to be forbidden from investing in things related to that on which they’re currently legislating, but the problem with this approach is that the Congress now legislates on every matter under the sun.

Apart from the ban on lobbying, there is something more we can add to this reform, and that is to require members of Congress and their staff to convert their investments into cash savings.  That way, as the value of the dollar goes, so goes the value of their savings.  Under such a regime, the Congress would have every reason to safeguard the value of the dollar by prudent fiscal policies, and you could bet they’d be eye-balling the Federal Reserve a good deal more closely.  Many suggest the use of blind trusts, but the problem is that most things called “blind trusts” aren’t really blind at all, as Governor Sarah Palin recently pointed out in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, all of these suggested reforms still only address part of the issue.  The biggest part of the problem is that Congress is involved too deeply in business at all levels, and in all respects.  This has become the biggest problem we face: As long as Congress can stick its nose into any business for any reason at all, to impose their notion of “regulating interstate commerce” as they see fit, under whatever outrageous definition they concoct, and with courts willing to interpret the Constitution that way, we’re in serious trouble.  It means they will always have some way to dig their claws into not only business, but also into our lives and our pockets.  We need a wall of separation between business and state at least as thorough as the one that’s been erected between church and state.  If we wish to save America, we’ll need to tackle this too.

 

 

Ten Reforms to Save America: Reform Number Three

Friday, November 18th, 2011

This Ain't No Tea Party

Of all the things we tend to overlook when we examine the corruption and inefficiency of government, the one area that seems always to escape serious examination is perhaps the most important cog in the outrageous machine:  Professional congressional staff.  The truth is that these people are frequently tasked with the authoring of legislation, and their elected members or the committees for which they work seldom see the final form of the legislation.  If making law is like making sausage, then these are the meat grinders who decide what subtler elements and sometimes major aspects of legislation will be included.  These people aren’t elected, and yet their effect on legislation is profound.  They manage to attach goodies to legislation that have no business in the bills.

Some of the worst are committee staff, where large and complex bills numbering into the thousands of pages frequently emerge.  You don’t think individual members, or even committees of them write all that legal jargon, do you?  No, of course not.  You can’t be tied up with menial chores like crafting legislation when you have a tee-time to make with lobbyists, and a full cocktail party schedule to keep with the DC smart set.  Instead, most of this legal legwork is turned over to staff, and this is where some of the worst abuses can occur.  The necessary reform is simple:  Congressional staff must be term-limited too.

I can hear the complaints from half a continent away, as those staffers recoil in horror at the proposal that they too should be subjected to limits upon their service.  Too damned bad.  The growth in their sheer numbers has been astonishing.   The fastest way to begin cleaning up the mess in Washington DC includes getting these staffers rotated out, permanently.  My argument will be that no member of Congressional staff ought to be employed for more than ten years, life-time, meaning no retirements, no special carve-outs, and no goodies for them.  Of course, there will always be corruption, but to remedy that, you move the pieces around some.  Make it impossible to spend more than one Congress on a given committee’s staff. The committee staff, for instance, of the Ways and Means committee, has far too much power.  It’s time to “spread the wealth,” I believe, and move them around as “temps” which they will be.  Yes, they’ll still have nifty salaries, and of course they can receive benefits just like any other civil servants, but not one damned dime or perquisite more.

There are other things we must put in place with staff:  They must undergo drug-testing, polygraph examination, criminal history and background checks, and be subjected to automatic IRS audit every year they serve the Congress.  Most importantly, to stop the “revolving door,” there must be a lifetime ban on lobbying Congress after their congressional service has ended, and lobbyists may not be eligible to work as Congressional staff for at least ten years after having been a registered lobbyist.  That’s right, I can hear the screams already: “It’s not fair.  You’re singling us out.  Why are you scapegoating us?”  Tough beans.  The simple fact is that it is not in the interests of the people of the United States to let Congressional members accrue undue power, never mind their staff.  They’re already in a position to profit from insider information, so there’s no sense pretending this isn’t a serious problem.

It’s the dirty secret in Washington DC that everybody knows, but few dare acknowledge:  Congressional staff serves as an unelected continuum from which there is no escape.  Voters can fire the top three members of each party on every committee, but still the same program runs.  If you wonder why, the answer is because behind the scenes, the politicians have been relieved of their legislative responsibilities and instead focus on fund-raising, while their staff carries on most if not nearly all of the member’s legislative work.  By the time you consider the impact of Committee staff, the effect is astonishing.  More, there is co-mingling between branches, where staffer X who works for Congressman Y is married to Senior Adviser A who works for executive branch Secretary B.  These sorts of back-channel relationships are well-known to the insiders, and they’re all players in the same game.  They know the rules, they know the way in which “things get done” in Washington, and you as the voter, so remote from this distant capital, have no idea what they’re doing, or why.

There’s no doubt that many are conscientious and diligent, but if we’re going to regain our control over this government, it must include an in-depth examination of Congressional staff, and perhaps of executive branch staff as well.  It’s all much too chummy in Washington DC, and while you think these people are adversarial under our two-party system, most often, that’s a show played out in front of the press.  Behind the scenes, it’s the staff carrying the water, and there’s no denying that they’re very collegial across the board.  Many of them have their own political aspirations, and it is in this way that we wind up with a permanent political class entrenched in the halls of power.  If you want that changed, you’d better add this to your list of reforms if we’re going to save America.

Ten Reforms to Save America: Reform Number Two

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

What Most of Them Need

If we are to save this country, we must begin to clean out the permanent political class that infests Washington DC.  Some of our elected officials serve across generations, and while some may make the argument that it’s not always a bad thing, I can think of too many reasons it’s awful.  Once in power, if the politician can sustain power through one or two re-elections, the politician begins to accumulate favors, but also accrue debts to be paid in favors, whether to lobbyists or other members.  The longer they stay, the more powerful they become, and with that power frequently comes arrogance.  At some point, what typically happens is that they forget about you until the last two months of an election season.

The only way we’re ever going to tackle this is by limiting their terms, their benefits, and their various perquisites.  For those who would argue that this somehow limits voter choice, I thoroughly reject their claim.  This is to suggest that any of these people are indispensable, but I know that for every long-serving member of Congress, there are thousands of people in their home states or districts who are equally qualified, diligent, and ambitious enough to do the peoples’ business. It’s time to drop the charade:  There isn’t a single one of them that couldn’t be easily replaced with another competent American.

I would argue that rather than simple term limits, we limit total federal elected service.  (We’ll get to the un-elected folks in another article.)  I propose that we limit elected federal service to a maximum of sixteen years. You can serve three terms in the House, one in the Senate, and one as President or Vice President, or any other combination that adds up to a maximum of sixteen years.  These terms need not be consecutive.  This should be a lifetime limitation. The limit is hard, meaning that if you seek re-election to your office, but your limit on years will expire before your term, you will still leave office upon the expiration of your limit.  In that way, if you had been elected to three terms in the House, and then one in the Senate, if you sought re-election for a second term in the Senate, you would be eligible only to serve the first four years of that second Senate term.

The idea is to restore the notion of a citizen legislature, and also to return more power to the states.  This proposal would accomplish this by making the political farm teams of state and local politics far more important to the nation as a whole.  It would also negate a goodly bit of the accumulated power that some long-serving members now wield.

The other thing we could add to make this interesting is to write into the necessary amendment that sixteen years of service does not make one eligible for retirement benefits.  I think we would all be better served if the politicians could derive no back-end benefits from their service.  To be honest, I can’t understand for the life of me how we let them construct such endless benefits for themselves.  Limiting their service ends any “moral” claim they might make to such benefits.

The other thing is that I would expressly forbid grandfathering of years already served.  At the point this amendment would take effect, any already having attained sixteen years or more of service would be ineligible for re-election.  You want to get rid of the bums?  This is the way to do it, and this would get rid of most of them. Are you sick of Harry Reid? Mitch McConnell?  Nancy Pelosi?  John Boehner?  Yes, this would rid us of these all.

The greatest two benefits of this system would be to eliminate the extensive kingdom-building in which politicians engage, and destroy the incentive to do so in the first place.   The real system is comprised of people many of whom use their time to consolidate their stranglehold on their office, and once they have it firmly in hand, to use their office to enrich themselves.  I don’t think we should let them linger there so long.

If you want to save the country, this step is critical.  Nothing spoils our nation so much as the competition for dollars to fund earmarks that are effectively vote-buying schemes of one description or another.  We should cut this off, and the way to do that is to say that there is no such thing as unlimited elected service.  Let them return to private life as our founders intended.  To those who say this will cheat democracy, I continue to dismiss their claim.  I am fairly certain that an overwhelming majority of my readers are at least as fit to serve as those who now occupy those offices.

 

Ten Reforms to Save America: Reform Number One

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Over the next several days, I am going to be bringing you a series of ten proposals derived from our national experience, and from a long list of suggestions from my readers.  Each day, I intend to bring you at least one in this list of ten items, so that you can consider their merits and flaws.  Since one of the items is now on the verge of being proposed in the House of Representatives later this week, I have decided that for several important reasons, we should begin there.  Our federal spending has grown out of all control, and Congress is looking for ways to avoid the pain.  The solutions Congress is now considering actually threaten the future of the country.

The first of ten reforms is a Balanced Budget Amendment.  That amendment must have as its primary purposes the following simple ends:

  1. Maintain the fiscal and financial stability of the United States by limiting the accrual of new public debt
  2. Restrain the growth of Federal spending as a proportion of the total economy of the United States
  3. Force Congress to live within a budget by restricting their ability to easily raise taxes
  4. Pay down the existing public debt over the longer run

These are the obvious purposes for a Balanced Budget Amendment, and any proposed amendment that does not meet these criteria is not a serious attempt at reform, and may even sew the seeds of revolution.

To maintain the fiscal and financial stability of the United States is critical in limiting the budgetary impact of existing debt, and to fulfilling our various spending priorities.  It is also important in the chore of maintaining the value of our currency.  Each additional dollar printed or digitized into circulation diminishes the value of every previous dollar.  Each time the federal government borrows additional funds, more money is put into circulation by the Federal Reserve.  To balance the budget would stop our national bleeding, and also limit the damage to the value of our money.

A serious proposal for a Balanced Budget Amendment must include a limit on how much of the economy the Federal Government can consume.  I think that proportion should be tagged at fifteen percent, but others would be satisfied if we could peg it to eighteen or twenty percent.  I would be willing to accept the twenty percent number if it was written specifically to include money spent in the private sector in order to comply with federal regulations, laws, and mandates.  This limitation would have the effect of making Congress deal with unfunded mandates and regulatory costs of the laws they impose, and the executive branch enforces.

In tandem with a limitation on Congressional authority to increase revenues, this would have the combined effect of putting the pinch on Congress and compelling them to control federal expenditures.  Any limitation to increase taxes should include a bare minimum of a two-thirds vote by both houses of Congress, although I would prefer three-fourths.

The last thing a Balanced Budget Amendment must do is set aside some proportion of the budget for the purpose of reducing the principle owed on the public debt.  In short, we should be buying down debt by constitutional mandate, a little at a time, but as the debt is paid down, any savings derived from reduced interest payments over the longer run should be plowed into reducing the debt at a greater rate.  Think of it like making the monthly minimum payment on your credit card, but rather than always making that minimum payment, instead continuing to pay that same initial payment amount.  Over time, the amount going to pay down principle increases while the amount spent in interest continues downward, ultimately at an accelerated pace.

These should be the bare essentials to be considered in the drafting and adoption of a Balanced Budget Amendment.  As of this writing, the House Republican leadership is working on a form of a Balanced Budget Amendment that contains no such restrictions, and might well lead to skyrocketing taxes.  In this sense, the version of the Amendment now being advanced by the Republican leadership may equate to a national suicide pact.  It may also be merely a stunt, but in any case, it is a dangerous proposal because it puts no restrictions on Congress.

If there’s one thing experience has taught us, it is that Congress is frequently irresponsible when it has the unlimited, unrestricted ability to spend the public treasure.  A serious Balanced Budget Amendment is the first step among several that will begin the lengthy process of regaining control over the United States by its people.  Don’t settle for half measures and recipes for disaster.  While the Republican leadership is working to shaft us again, we must let them know that their tepid proposals simply will not suffice, and will not be accepted.  This is our country.  It’s time to let them know it.