Author of Saving Democracy!, Wasted Genius and Common Genius

Could Compromise and Non-partisanship Make a Better Congress?

Retiring Sen. Evan Bayh recently warned that Congress needs harmony and must drop its rampant partisanship. In a nationally broadcast interview, the Indiana Democrat said, “The extremes of both parties have to be willing to accept compromises” in order to accomplish things for the national good. He added that voters are in a mood to turn out many incumbents “until we change this town, until we reform Congress.” Doesn’t that sound grand? But haven’t we heard such nonsense before, many, many times?

The American political scene has never been harmonious nor has political ambition ever taken a back-seat to civility. Such mere “words” have proven meaningless in the actual conduct of affairs of state. What is needed instead of harmony and fancy words is a rational and non-ideological approach to solving the problems facing the nation. And the biggest problem now and for the forseeable future is the economy. The recent record of government oversight and management of the economy has proven disastrous so a change is both obvious and essential. And the change needed is so drastic that “compromise” cannot be the answer.

Congress and the Presidents have been compromising over spending, taxes and the budget forever, and recently those three vital areas of government have spun out of control. The annual spending deficits and the national debt have escalated so grotesquely that the restoration of fiscal sanity should be the first order of business. Sadly, the goal of even the most prudent observers is to merely “reduce’ the deficit within some 5-10 year future period, and THEN to reduce the debt. That is hogwash. It is merely defering the problem off conveniently into the future. That has been the modus operandi for too long. It does not work.

Partisans can argue over the merits of every conceivable government program and policy until the cows come home but the programs themselves are not our major concern. The major concern is that the programs, whatever they may be, must be paid for out of current receipts. A balanced budget provides a self-limiting control over the nation’s finances. It doesn’t matter whether we believe that all government spending is essential or totally wasted–just as long as it is covered by revenue and nothing is added to our national debt. It would be nice to think that our elected officials could streamline government, simplify and eliminate overlapping inefficient programs, and eliminate corruption, expensive junkets, pork, and bribery. But it is more important right now to just live within our income. We could actually survive with waste and pork if it was paid for without issuing phony paper money! Fighting over the way it is spent is just a diversion and hides the real problem of how do we pay for it.

A balanced budget that included actuarial computation of deferred mandate expenses would force a large reduction in spending and a big tax increase. The difference between what Congress is committing for and actual income is too huge not to require both. Such a policy would provide an important wake up call about how serious the problem is. And voters would be made vividly aware of both the curtailment of expenditures and the added burden of taxes. They would then be in a position to evaluate the issues at stake. But we would have stemmed the bleeding. Think of a gaping wound and the need above all else is for a tourniquet.

At present, the arcane chicanery of the Federal Reserve and its compulsive printing of money and issuing debt hides the perilous situation we face. What we have been doing is allowing foreign nations to own more and more of our national debt which will eventually give them an inordinate control over us. And hardly noticed, the escalating interest on that debt further burdens the annual budget, and grows larger every year.

Sen. Evan Bayh says partisanship and gridlock made it time for him to quit. It would have been better for him to enter legislation to keep all spending within the amount of revenue taken in. Then Congress would be free to fight over whether those expenditures would go to farmers, single moms, the aged, the injured, the homeless, the military, or the schools. Where it went would be secondary compared to the fact that we would be living within our means and the costs would be visible to everyone. To gain this essential situation every voter should look chiefly for a politician’s pledge to balance the budget “now, not in the future sometime.” The candidate’s stated position on gay rights, foreign aid, welfare, and the war on terror, will not be terribly important if America goes bankrupt and is owned by foreign nations that have learned to save rather than just spend.