Remember the Contract with America? That was the pact that Newt Gingrich and some of his pals put together during the campaign of 1994. Some people think it won the Republicans the House that year. Why? Chiefly because it demonstrated an awareness of fiscal reality that had been missing in Washington.
I thought about the Contract while digesting the news of Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget. That’s the president’s extra lean, no frills, cut-to-the-bone budget. It projects a deficit of $1.6 trillion dollars next year, something close to that the year after, and who knows how much in the years following.
Has the penny dropped yet? “Wealthy Face Tax Increases” warns an article in The Wall Street Journal. But it’s not just the wealthy. It’s also the middle-class, folks struggling to pay their mortgage and educate their children. In fact, just about everybody who pays income tax (all 50-odd percent of us) will see their taxes rise, and rise substantially. There have been many stories about “back door” and “stealth” taxes. Hope and small change. Get used to it: you will be poorer.
Is it all part of Obama’s plan to “fundamentally transform the United States of America”? (Don’t forget: that was his promise—his warning?—just a few days before his election in 2008.”) Even The New York Times is getting worried:
“His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.”
And it’s not just money. Or rather, the money isn’t only about money. It is also about some of the things money represents: national security, for example. “Deficit Balloons Into National-Security Threat,” reads a headline today. You’ll be reading that headline often in the months and years to come. Not only will you be poorer because of Barack Obama and his spendthrift allies in Congress, you and your children will be less secure. Here’s Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations: “We’ve reached a point now where there’s an intimate link between our solvency and our national security. What’s so discouraging is that our domestic politics don’t seem to be up to the challenge. And the whole world is watching.”
It is easy to be alarmed by what’s happening around us. Alarm, if it issues in appropriate action, is a good. What’s not good is a fatalistic acceptance of our national impoverishment and eclipse. Too many conservatives, I believe, have embraced a Paul-Kennedyesque spirit of declinism. They accept as a given what is only a possibility. A more valuable response is enshrined in the spirit of the “tea parties” that are sweeping the country. Can they make a difference? Ask yourself this: Can a Republican win a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states? (How do you spell “Scott Brown”?)
All such victories and initiatives are worth celebrating. And in that spirit I a pleased to share with readers a new “Contract with America” courtesy of my friend Steve Einhorn:
2010 Contract with America
1. The Waste, Fraud and Abuse Act: Select an independent council from the private sector to identify waste, fraud and abuse in government and major national accounting firms to conduct comprehensive audits of all Federal Government spending. Government employees who identify savings receive a bonus.
2. The Balanced Budget Act: An Amendment to the Constitution that would require a balanced budget within 5 years (including a 50% reduction in the first year), and provide the President with a line-item veto subject to Congressional override. The balanced budget would be in accordance with GAAP.
3. The Bi-Partisan Social Security Act: An act that forms a bi-partisan commission to change Social Security into a program that would balance income and payouts so that it was actuarially neutral. This would entail reducing benefits for the truly wealthy, increasing the minimum age for qualification, and allowing private companies to compete with the existing Social Security program.
4. The Bi-Partisan Medicare/ Medical Drug Act: An act that forms a bi-partisan commission to change Medicare and Medical Drugs into a program that would become actuarially neutral, and allow private company competition. This would probably include partial self-payment for most medical activities, upfront information on charges by health providers, and reasonable limits on “pain and suffering” awards for medical claims.
5. The Bi-Partisan Medicaid Act: An act that forms a bi-partisan commission to change Medicaid into a program that would become more fiscally responsible; and encourage and allow private foundations and charities to fulfill these functions. The Federal Government would be obligated to pay for all current mandates and not impose future unfunded mandates on the states
6. The Congress Responsibility Act: All laws that apply to the rest of the country apply to Congress; require committee meetings to be public; replace special pensions for Congress with Social Security; no pay raises for Congress until the budget is balanced. Congress must self-complete their tax returns without professional help.
7. The Term-Limit Act: An Amendment to the Constitution that would impose term limits on members of the US Congress (House: four terms. Senate: two terms).
8. The Transparency Act: All acts passed by Congress must address a single subject. No add-ons or earmarks. Nothing that is clearly unrelated to the issue at hand. No Act voted on for passage could be longer than 20 pages (8 ½ x 11 inch pages at 10 pica).
9. The Tax Limitation Act: requires a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase, and extends the 2001 tax rates indefinitely.
10. The Tenth Amendment Confirmation Act: An act that would restate and prevent further erosion of the Constitution’s principle of federalism to confirm that powers not granted to the federal government nor prohibited to the states are reserved to the states or the people.
What do you think. “It’ll never happen,” you say. As P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith observed, it is a grave error to confuse the unlikely with the impossible. Perhaps it is not likely that such a sane suite of proposals will be enacted by a sclerotic Congress addicted to its own prerogatives. So what? Scott, as I said earlier, Brown.