Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Truth in Legislating

In the heat of the battle over pork in congress (or rather, the battle is between those outside of congress and those inside), the suggestion comes again that we should have some amendments under consideration.  One being a balanced budget amendment and one being a Truth in Legislation amendment.

The balanced budget amendment is unfortunate.  Like all people and companies there are times when you absolutely must spend more than you have.  Emergencies, buying a house, making that critical investment on infrastructure.   It’s unfortunate that our congressmen and women, over the past several decades, have abuse that need so that we have perpetually been in debt.

Some of that debt is not a bad thing.  There always will be a bit of debt in the form of government bonds, and bonds are one of the things that keeps the stock market from careening off in one direction or another.

Credit agencies determine part of your score by what percentage of your credit limit is currently in use.   How much debt are you in vs. how much space there is on your card.  Another measure might be: how much money do you owe vs. how much you make.

How’s the fed doing on either of these standards?
And considering that their “income” is actually your money and mine, frivolous spending even within a sensible budget is irresponsible. 

So, as I said, a balanced budget amendment might be necessary, but it’s unfortunate.
However, a truth in legislation amendment might be more useful, and has no real downsides that I can determine.  It might not, however, stop pork in its tracks, just make it easier to see the frivolous spending.  For instance, the transportation bill that just passed, if all the spending was for roadways and transportation related projects, then it would all be one subject and allowed in the bill.  However some of those transportation projects are things that the fed shouldn’t be doing.  And some are patently useless.

Jon Henke has some interesting ideas for controlling government spending.

1 comment:

Kat said...

John Henke’s conclusion that the solution to bloated government is threefold is rather compelling. Its three components are eminently defensible on their face. I suspect many Americans would argue in favor of transparency, a price mechanism or user-fee based tax system, and consequences for excessive governmental spending. Most people apply all of the above-mentioned mechanisms in their own household budgets. Those who would argue against such measures likely have their toes is the public money pool – want their own spending to go unchecked, or are heavily mired in the concept of redistribution of wealth. One of the better suggestions in Henke’s discussion (a reader comment) is the notion of forcing legislators to individually rank their spending priorities, averaging the result, and letting the lowest priority expenditures be the first on the chopping block when in comes time to make necessary cuts to stay within budget.

My questions in response to all of this are – What would it take for such a concept to get legs? Is it even remotely possible that legislators would impose such restrictions on themselves? Does the electorate have any of the will required to force lawmakers to adopt, in any measure, such limitations? Many thought they were headed in that direction with the Republican “Contract with America” of the 90’s, and we see where that got them. Is there enough optimism out there to believe that change is possible, and worth the effort to pursue, or is this another well articulated, but ultimately futile discussion? Too many people believe that the public trough is never going to be emptied, so they might as well keep their noses in it and try to get their share. I think Henke's got some great ideas. I wish I could have more faith that any of them can ever be implemented. Does that sound too cynical?