Out of Washington, we tend to hear the same old stories. Republicans want to cut spending and not raise taxes. Democrats want to tax the rich and not let Republicans touch the entitlement programs. Tea Party Republicans just want to defund the Affordable Care Act. In a divided government, it has managed to get us into one stalemate after another. This last time, it finally shut down the government and nearly brought us to the brink of defaulting on our debt. Obviously, there are some common sense things that can be done to help move our government from the way it currently governs. Instead of just “kicking the can” on each fiscal/economic crisis, it can easily put this together so we aren’t constantly facing the same problems.
The first thing our politicians must do is talk to each other especially people from the other side of the proverbial aisle. This is a must. We have a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a Democratic-controlled Senate and President. This means that everyone must work together. It shouldn’t be about scoring political points or who’s right or “who’s winning.” It’s about doing the work of the nation, and doing what the people need you to do. Will there be times that we disagree on things? Of course, but we can still be civil with our disagreements and work our way around them. It all begins with respect and dialogue and knowing that neither side is going to get everything that it wants. It’s called compromise, and it’s not a dirty word. It is how this nation was founded. The Constitution is one big compromise. We should not lose sight of that fact. We should respect it in our history and in the present. Is it perfect? No. The Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850 only delayed the start of the Civil War. Compromising on the issue of slavery was just not going to work, but the effort was given. When talking about our fiscal problems, compromise can work though much like the compromises that forged the very document upon which our government was formed.
So now that we have the politicians talking to each other, what should they be talking about? One word: budget. The House of Representatives is correct in that it has passed a budget every year since Republicans took control in 2011. The Senate has killed those budgets every time. For the 2013-14 budget, the House stuck an amendment onto it that forced the Senate to pass a budget or not get paid. Technically, that amendment would have been unconstitutional via the 27th Amendment. However, it did get the Senate to pass a budget which the House then passed over. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) then declared there would be no conference and the rest, we now know, is part of history. Being controlled by different political parties, the two chambers are bound to come up with different budgets based on their party’s political views; however, they must remember the other side is controlled by the other party. If all one side does is pass a budget that they know the other side won’t agree to then we aren’t getting anywhere. Both chambers need to pass a budget that the other side will start working on with them. This particularly goes to the House since all appropriation bills must start in that chamber via the US Constitution.
We are making progress. Now they are talking to each other about the budget. But now what is in that budget? (Quick note: Some of these are just ideas and mentioning them does not mean ‘yes’ or ‘no.’) The budget needs to start backing us away from the debt ceiling or it will need to be raised continuously and doesn’t solve the problem. The debt ceiling must be raised each time because we have an obligation to pay for the things that Congress and the President spend money for. But with the right budget, the nation can begin to back off the debt ceiling. If Congress cannot work together to pass a budget through both chambers each year, then they should not be paid for that year as passing spending resolutions is one of their key tasks. (Note: This last part would only take effect after an election per the 27th Amendment.)
Let’s start with funding the various government departments. The sequester cuts must remain in place though each department should be allowed where to make those cuts. In addition, it wouldn’t hurt to at least take another 5% from each department. There is plenty of waste in each department to do this. (click here) With the new funding levels, departments will still lose money, misappropriate funds, or just waste it away. When this becomes known, then that particular department would lose that specific amount of funding for the next budget year in order to repay the taxpayers and would lose any chance of an increase in their budget (minus returning to their previous level once that year is complete) for the next five years. No department likes to lose money, so hopefully this will make them become more aware of how it is spent. Automatic budget increases must be stopped. Increases in funding should be determined by the economy, income, and how each department manages its current funding. This would apply to all departments including defense (which could probably withstand an additional 10% cut instead of the 5% mentioned above).
The government is funded through various taxes… one of which is the income tax. (Before income tax was made legal, the government was mainly funded from a sales tax on alcohol.) Our tax code is a disjointed mess to say the least. There needs to be tax reform both income and corporate. This means that some will be paying less and some will be paying more. In regards to income taxes, leave them at the levels they are currently with the exception of the top 1%. As part of the sequester deal, the very, very top of the 1% saw an income tax increase but not the rest of the 1%. Bring the rest of them into the fold. Next are corporate taxes. The US does have one of the highest rates in corporate taxes. This should be brought down to a respectable level to make corporations headquartered here to be competitive internationally and also attract those foreign companies to locate jobs here. Our politicians should also be open to finding new sources of revenue. These sources could come in the form of legalizing medical marijuana and taxing it accordingly or leasing out certain federal lands for renewable energy such as solar and wind. Maybe they could sell of some of their property they are underutilizing, and maybe even sell some land back to the states. There are plenty of ideas that can fit into this and should be independently explored openly.
Notice that I didn’t discuss individual departments. That’s mostly because this would have gotten rather lengthy, even if there had only been a few examples. This was a blueprint in order to get the two sides talking about some common sense ideas. It’s not about political points or who’s winning. It’s about doing their jobs and doing what the nation needs them to do. We have to get our financial house in order; otherwise, we are going to continue to go around in the same circle that we have been for the past few years. The latest government shutdown and nearly defaulting on our debt once again should teach us this lesson. Our politicians need to wake up and take care of business.