An Outline for Reforming Government

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

America has an admirable constitutional system, but reforming the nation’s too-big, too-intrusive and too-corrupt government is an existential imperative.

To correct the excesses of political Washington, shrink the Leviathan state, and restore good governance, first, the temptations for officeholders to place personal and special interests over public service must be eliminated.

Pay-to-play has become routine in government, however, most critics who complain about money in the political process cite only a need to ban it, while overlooking the systemic governmental schemes that attract it.

There will always be money in politics, but political and financial self-interest could be reduced by guaranteeing transparency, by removing incentives to offer or solicit votes, cash and favors, and by making it impossible to enrich oneself while in and as a byproduct of having held office. Lobbying, office-related speaking and “consulting” fees after leaving government should be outlawed.

Americans should be less interested in auditing the taxes of a man who became a billionaire before seeking office and more in examining the affairs of people who became millionaires while holding one.

Age and reasonable term limits, abolishing legislative pensions, limiting the perks of office and eliminating officeholders’ waivers to US law would yield positive results.

Many American laws, regulations and taxes are immoral legacies of political, social and economic engineering designed, then exploited by incumbents.

Taxation is meant to raise government revenue, while laws and regulations should serve the common public interest, but legislators use all three to attract campaign contributions, repay political favors and/or bribe voters.

The massive United States Code, a consolidation of the nation’s laws, is loaded with deals for special interests and politically-favored constituencies. The maddeningly-complex, thoroughly-corrupt US Tax Code counts thousands of pages of loopholes, credits and favors for friends, political supporters and generous special interests. Most are intentionally opaque.

For transparency, Congress should write bills in standard, readable English, and voting prohibited until they’ve been posted online in searchable format for a week or more.

Legislators should provide proof of having read every bill on which they vote. Preferably, all bills should be read aloud to a quorum in each chamber, and votes denied to legislators absent from the reading. Most massive bills wouldn’t survive readings, much less pass both houses.

To discourage deal-making, no bill should incorporate matters involving more than one section of the United States Code.

“Omnibus” legislation allows bill sponsors to overcome the competing interests of legislators to pass bills, individual elements of which would not succeed on their merits. For example, including food stamps with farm subsidies attracts the votes of urban legislators for the pork-laden Farm Bill.

There should be legislative rules that permit members to force up-or-down recorded votes on sweetheart deals embedded in bills. Rules wouldn’t eliminate congressional deal-making, but would slow the process, open more details for public scrutiny and disclose special interests.

Congress should never resume earmarks that, in the past, legislators secured primarily for contributors and to attract favorable press and votes.

The federal revenue system should use a simpler, flatter tax code that removes loopholes, subsidies and credits, lowers rates across the board and increases the percentage of Americans with skin in the game. A simpler code would reduce the cost of tax compliance for businesses and families, while removing incentives for special interests to lobby Congress and underwrite campaigns.

One of government’s greatest perversions lies in the cozy relationships between politicians and labor unions. Big Labor, especially its public employee union component, is, by far, America’s most powerful, most generous lobby. Allowing public employee unions to fund the politicians who authorize their pay and benefits is bribery writ large. To eliminate this corruption, America should prohibit public employee union money in politics or, preferably, reinstate the FDR-inspired pre-1960s prohibition of public employees’ unions.

At minimum, it should be as easy to reduce agency headcount and fire public employees for cause – including underperformance – as it is in the private sector.

If legislators are held accountable to the same laws and regulations governing regular citizens, their pensions and perks cancelled, the legislative process cleansed, the tax code simplified, labor bribery outlawed, and former officeholders prohibited from becoming lobbyists and paid “consultants,” America can begin to break the nexus of campaign contributions and government spending, purge most “dirty” money from government, and return public service to Washington.