As I sat through the California gubernatorial debate on Monday, listening to Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner lay out their plans for the once Golden State, it dawned on me what the problem is with the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress—they are full-time.
California is a shambles with brutal budget deficits, outrageous six-figure public employee pensions, a tax and regulatory regime that is literally chasing businesses to more competitive states in the region, 12.5 percent unemployment, and a legislature dominated by liberal special interests and public employee unions. With the highest sales tax in the nation and the second highest income tax, there is actually debate over raising taxes to solve our $20 billion-plus deficit.
And in Washington, we watch routine votes to raise the debt ceiling so that we can amass a debt now exceeding $12 trillion ($40,000 per person) while ignoring our projected $1.56 trillion deficit—which of course will add to that $12+ trillion debt. The biggest chunk of that spending is Social Security and Medicare, the so-called “third-rail” of American politics. Not only don’t we do anything to rein it in, we add to it. The “conservative” Bush Administration actually added to it with the largest expansion of LBJ’s Great Society: Medicare Part D. And now President Obama, uncontented (yes, I know that is not a word) with the problems we already have, hopes to add to them by having the federal government take over our healthcare system.
The question becomes why do our elected leaders ignore the systemic economic problems emanating from their failures to make the tough decisions required to get us back on track? It’s actually simple: they don’t want to lose their jobs.
They like being congressman, senators, assemblyman, governors, and yes, even presidents. They like people kissing up to them and treating them as if they are among the enlightened in our society. Fact is, most of them, in the absence of the prefix Rep., Sen., Gov., are embarrassingly unimpressive. Yes, for most of them, this will be the best job they ever have and the most important thing they ever do.
And the one sure way to lose the job you love, the job that gives you the status and attention you crave, is to take things away from the people you depend on for votes and money. But on the other hand, the idea of raising taxes—another sure way to lose your job—is almost as unappealing.
So rather than say “no” to those that love them and need them, they say “yes.” And then, to pay for their yeses, they sell more of our debt to our good friends. Friends like China and Saudi Arabia. You know, friends that only wish the best for us. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to Congress for being so thoughtful with the American Mortgage. But heck, at least they get to keep their jobs.
As I look at polls around the country, it is clear that voter disgust is driven primarily by the dysfunction in our legislative bodies. In fact, I do not think this election will be decided on issues but rather who best taps into that disgust that the system is broken and needs to be overhauled.
But how can we change our system—the worst one in the world except for all the others? I have now come to believe that we must eliminate the full-time aspect of the Congress and of those states that have full-time legislatures (incidentally the ones with the biggest problems).
Why? Because we need to end the idea that it is a job rather than a service. We need to take away the prestige and status and benefits that come with the responsibility and make it so intoxicating to those in office (visit part-time Arizona, state legislators are treated like meter maids). If Congressman X is only in Washington for two or three months to pass a budget and make whatever critical decisions need to be made about the welfare of our nation, they will focus on those things and get back home where their real job is and make their living.
Instead, 535 electeds spend about 10 months of the year in the Congress feeling like they need to justify their being there and finding things to do—things we don’t need them to do and things that always cost the us, the taxpayers, more.
Yes, it is time to end this crazy idea that we are better off with these people on the job. The fact is we are never safer from our government than when those we elect to go to Washington are absent from Washington.
Jason Cabel Roe is a partner in Revolvis Consulting, a Republican campaign consulting firm with offices in San Diego, Sacramento and Washington. He is the former managing partner of the Federal Strategy Group and was chief of staff to Rep. Tom Feeney of Florida and Rep. Jim Rogan of California.