POSTED ON MARCH 13, 2013:
The Magic Number
545 people are responsible for the country's problems
When you listen closely to the debate in Washington on every issuing facing this country, you begin to think that the fault or blame for not restoring the greatness of our country lies somewhere outside of Washington. We are led to believe that everyone in America outside of the D.C. beltway is responsible.
But out of the 300 million citizens in this country, how is it that just 545 people have either created the problems or failed to solve them? If you wonder how that could possibly be, consider some of the points which Charley Reese, a journalist formerly with the Orlando Sentinel, made 17 years ago.
If both Republicans and Democrats are against deficits, why do we have deficits? If they are all against inflation and higher taxes, why do we have inflation and high taxes? You and I don't write the federal budget or the tax code or set fiscal policy. We have 100 senators, 435 congressmen, one president and nine Supreme Court justices, totaling 545 people, who are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.
It's not the special interests or the lobbyists because they have no authority or ability to coerce an elected official to do one thing that he or she doesn't want to. If the tax code is unfair, it's because they want it unfair. If the budget is in the red, it's because they want it in the red. If the armed forces are in foreign countries, it's because they want them there. In short, there are no insoluble government problems.
When confronted, these 545 are quick to blame bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish, or a lobbyist whose gifts and advice they can reject, or regulators to whom they give the power to regulate.
And it's not some mystical force like "the economy" or "politics" or "inflation" or this or that. It's the 545 of them.
There are easily over 50 different taxes from the federal level to the local level that did not exist 100 years ago, when our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We actually had, believe it or not, no national debt and the largest middle class in the world. How did we, the citizens, allow these 545 people to take our country in such a discouraging and depressing direction? How have we become so gullible that we continue to believe their campaign rhetoric and promises and keep sending them back expecting a different result from the same people?
What we are now witnessing is our generation's version of the revolution that founded this country. This new revolt is being led by governors, mayors, businesses, education leaders, health providers, and many other citizen groups.
Our federal spending and the rise of our national debt has reached a point that Congress and the president thought they could out duel the other by passing the poison pill called sequester. Both sides believed the other side would not be able to stomach the political pressure and social consequence of cutting federal spending. But when the deadline came, nobody blinked, and spending cuts began.
In reality, the percent of the cuts is relatively small; some estimate less than 5 percent. Most states and cities had to cut a lot more than that during the Great Recession. But with a federal government that has grown so large with so many programs that so many depend upon, it was easy for some to claim the sky was falling. But the sky didn't fall.
The sequester was more about pay cuts than job cuts. It's more about program and service reduction not elimination. It's about trimming not gutting. It's more about reducing the size of the federal government than it is about passing judgment on everything the federal government has been doing. There are lots of needed and worthwhile programs and projects that don't belong under the authority and funding of the federal government. In the end, it's the same belt tightening that every person, family, business, school, and government has had to do recently.
So what can the federal government do to get its fiscal house in order? It could start by learning the lessons from mayors and governors on what they have done.
The list would include: don't replace the 100,000 federal workers who retire each year in order cut the cost of their positions; impose a hiring freeze; reduce the regulations where the costs greatly outweigh the benefits; get serious about rewriting the tax code and think about the fair tax; return to the states and local governments control for education, the environment, and health care.
Start listening to the people who really are running the governments of this country at the state and local levels. The answers are there, not in Washington. Take seriously the research and reports on wasteful spending done by Senator Tom Coburn and others, and keep any spending growth within the range of inflation.
It's not really hard to think what the 545 people responsible should do. What is hard is getting them to do it. Unless or until they do, we will continue to drift in no particular direction for any particular purpose. And that's a tragedy for all of us and this great country.
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