I think the U.S. Constitution is an amazing, well-crafted document that has been instrumental in the rise and continued success of the American culture and economy. The founders did a good job of anticipating future needs and building in flexibility for a growing and technologically evolving nation. But the country has some big problems today; problems that could have been addressed originally, or could be corrected today through the amendment process.
Unlike some left-wing university professors, I would not throw out our constitution, but starting from our existing document, here’s what I’d add:
#1 Federal Term Limits
No person shall be elected to the same federal office for more than four terms or 12 years (whichever is less).
The entrenched political culture of Washington D.C. will never be fixed by career politicians who are in safe districts. There is something to be said about citizen politicians – those who work for a living and periodically travel to Washington to handle the nation’s business.
While congress established presidential term limits early last century, they will never put limits on themselves and the president has no power to implement them for congress. The only means of setting up and enforcing term limits is through the constitution itself.
I would propose term limits of no more than 12 years or 4 terms – whichever is lower – in a single role in the legislative or executive branches. This would allow two terms in the Senate, four terms in the House of Representatives, or three terms as president.
#2 Balanced Budgets and Revenue-Limited Spending
The legislative and executive branches must pass a two-year budget in odd-numbered years where total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts for the prior fiscal year.
A key role of politicians is to manage the nation’s operations and finances. As such, the Constitution should require the president and congress to pass a two-year budget, voted on and implemented in off-election years. If a budget is not passed, the prior budget will be extended automatically with no inflation or cost of living increases.
In order to balance the federal budget, the federal government must limit its spending to revenue earned in prior years. The job of congress and the president is to allocate available dollars, but how much can be spent is constitutionally determined. As such, the federal government must not run budget deficits for more than two consecutive years. The consequence for violating this rule is that the next year’s budget will be automatically reduced by 10% across the board – all programs and all expenditures.
In addition, the federal government must abide by current financial accounting standards (as established by congress and federal agencies) as though it were any private company. Spending cannot take place off the books and all future liabilities must be accounted for on an annual report to taxpayers. The government will also be subjected to an audit by an independent, private accounting firm every five years.
#3 Pay for Performance
If a budget is not lawfully passed ahead of any fiscal year, all federally elected representatives will suffer an immediate 50% pay cut until a budget is passed. Representatives will be awarded a 15% annual bonus when U.S. GDP exceeds 4%, or assessed a 10% pay cut when GDP falls below 2%.
Members of congress tend to believe their job is to write laws and spend more taxpayer dollars. They measure their own job performance by how many bills they pass or how many dollars they bring home to their states and districts. A politician’s incentives revolve around re-election, not the financial stability and security of the nation. A new pay-for-performance plan will be established with pay that will be based on two key metrics: fiscal responsibility and GDP growth.
Specifically, when congress fails to pass a budget in the years they are required – this includes obtaining approval from the sitting president – an immediate 50% pay cut will be instituted for all elected representatives and will remain in force until the budget is passed. Next, when annual GDP growth falls below 2%, a 10% pay cut will be enforced with additional cuts each year GDP does not rise above 2%. When GDP growth exceeds 4%, each elected representative will be awarded a 15% bonus.
While congress and the president may not be able to control the U.S. economy, they are incentivized to implement policies that maximize economic growth and control federal spending through the budget process.
This concludes my exercise in futility.