But neither was it meant to fail, and by every measure it is failing. Epically.
Washington borrows some 40 cents for every dollar it spends; that’s a $16 trillion bill (and counting) that we’re leaving to our children, even as the current economy has little to show for it. But even as they watch Europe flirt with financial collapse from its own overspending, members of Congress can’t put the brakes on this runaway train. They can’t agree on what day it is.
As a result, they lurch from self-created crisis to self-created crisis, kicking the nation’s can down the road while spooking the financial markets and paralyzing business owners unsure of what government will be demanding of them.
And though most pedestrians interviewed recently by comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show couldn’t even identify their congressperson – while being able to name characters in a TV reality show – they know Washington is broken: Polls give Congress an approval rating hovering around 10 percent, the worst ever. As Time magazine noted, one recent poll found Congress to be less popular than “root canals, NFL replacement referees, head lice, Canadian rock band Nickelback, colonoscopies, carnies (that is, carnival employees), traffic jams, Donald Trump, France, Genghis Khan, used-car salesmen, Washington political pundits and brussels sprouts.”
In that climate, and in an enthusiastic spirit of unwarranted optimism, we offer you today our five-point plan to fix Washington.
We’ll spoil the climax by telling you up-front: This surprised us, and we didn’t plan it this way, but each of the five solutions to fix Washington is something that we the people must do – not our leaders. That may be happenstance; it’s just how our list turned out.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s an indication that, despite unprecedented overreaching by Washington, this is still our country. If it’s broken, it’s up to us to fix it.
But it’s also an admission that we have little faith in our current leaders to do what’s necessary to salvage our federal government. Too many are just out for themselves and the perpetuation of their interminable careers.
Whatever the reasons, the message is clear enough: Washington can’t fix Washington. Only we can.
Maybe the first step is to learn and commit to memory the name of your member of Congress. Seeing videos such as Jimmy Kimmel’s doesn’t imbue one with much confidence. Yet, we believe the majority of Americans still are smart and engaged enough to save the country from its dysfunctional central government.
But someone needs to tell the story that it is, indeed, going to have to be up to us.
Without further ado, then, the five things we must do to fix Washington:
1) Put spending limits in the Constitution.
Some of us believe spending limits are already provided for indirectly, through the enumerated powers spelled out in the Constitution proper, as well as in the 10th Amendment, which says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” But apparently we need to spell it out.
Spending restrictions, which would have to leave room for tightly-drawn emergency exceptions such as war, could be tied to gross domestic product – the value of what the
nation’s citizens produce in a year –
or other economic indicators that point to our ability to afford it. Historically, the federal government has hovered at 18 to 20 percent of GDP, but we now appear willing to accept 25 percent. Eighteen to 20 is better.
Ideally, we’d have an amendment that restricts spending to actual functions of the federal government, but the wording would be problematic. Still, strict numerical spending limits could perform that function, by forcing Congress and the president to set priorities and actually make difficult choices.
2) Term limits for Congress.
Unfortunately, this too would require a constitutional amendment, but it appears irretrievably necessary. We’ve got to return to a citizen legislature; the careerists are out of control, and are putting their interests above ours.
We have a ruling elite in Washington – crowned by the power of our purse and the resulting influence of lobbyists – that is both imperious and impervious. It takes multiple scandals and a reliable crowbar to dislodge most of these guys from our seats of power. We keep sending them back, term after term, to do battle with other permanent fixtures, all of whom have learned to dislike and distrust each other, so nothing gets done.
We do, sadly enough, have to be saved from ourselves.
3) We need a healthy states’ rights movement.
It’s out there, but has yet to coalesce. It almost did so, in the fight against Obamacare. But the various states relied on the federal courts to stand up to the other two branches of government.
The truth is, we’ve already got something to coalesce around: that 10th Amendment we mentioned earlier.
If more citizens considered that this country is still a union of sovereign states, and that their sovereignty has been run over with a Bush Hog, maybe those states would start to act like it.
A states’ rights movement could help in the cause of amending the Constitution, and vice-versa.
4) We need nothing short of a renaissance of civic-minded citizens and civic education across the country.
Too many Americans today either don’t understand our system of government, or perhaps just don’t buy into it. We must demand that our schools make it a priority to churn out students who appreciate the beauty of our republic and the individual liberties it protects and preserves when it’s forced to operate correctly.
Meanwhile, their parents need to show as much interest in the doings of government as they do the last season of Jersey Shore.
5) We need a media reformation.
Consumers must insist on national news (and entertainment) media that a) don’t promote one side of a political debate or
demonize the other side and b) inform Americans relentlessly and plainly about
the problems we face and the truth about their solutions.
One example: President Obama tried to insinuate in his inaugural address that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have political enemies who think such programs “sap our initiative.”
The truth is, Mr. Obama’s political opponents are actually trying to prod him into saving those programs, because they’re on an unsustainable financial track that could destroy the programs and bankrupt us. The media have largely allowed such demagoguery to go unchallenged.
Again, these five steps to fix Washington are up to us, not our leaders.
The question is, do we have what it takes to do it?