Thursday, April 2, 2009

The "Spend Our Money Wisely or Else" Amendment

I'd like to see a simple amendment to our Constitution that motivates Congress to be fiscally responsible. If the budget is not in balance for a given fiscal year, the most senior third of Congress in either chamber who voted for the budget are ineligible to serve in either House for a period of time after their current term expires. They lose incumbency and seniority, the two things they prize the most. They cannot switch Houses, either. This ban would last two years for every out of balance budget they have ever voted for. "Budget" means all Federal revenues and expenditures, and would be accounted for by the GAO or other neutral party to reduce gimmicks.

Say an out of balance budget passes the House by a vote of 300 to 135. The 100 most senior members who voted for it would not be able to run for re-election. If this was the first out of balance budget you voted for, you'd have to wait for two years to run again. If it was the tenth, you'd have to wait twenty years to run again.

My original thought was to bar all voters for the out of balance budget, but consider a budget in deficit that gets passed by a party line vote: every single member of Congress of that party would be replaced in the next election. The result would be chaotic, especially if that party still retained control-you'd have a bunch of rookies trying to run Congress. Better to replace the leadership, who has more responsibility.

One additional trigger condition to enforce this provision could be debt as a percentage of GDP, particularly as government gets spending and taxation in line. This would allow the government flexibility to deal with a crisis without undergoing a major leadership change. For example, if the debt ceiling were 25% of GDP, and the current debt was 20% of GDP, Congress could have a deficit of up to 5% of GDP without triggering the provision.

Our country's health depends on good long term fiscal policy. This may be a mechanism to ensure that.