"Who's responsible for this mess!?!"
This question makes most people except politicians and psychotics (hmmm...) nervous - they are impervious to the concept of responsibility; they're good at laying blame, but have this remarkable ability to shake accountability.
The Emancipation Proclamation was a landmark moment in American history - it recognized the rights of a people theretofore viewed as property. Just as America has a human rights framework (based in part on the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence), surely there should be a more rigorous governance framework for the country?
I can think of three (vain) efforts at Federal political governance - the voters (elections and term limits for the President); the players (separation of powers); and the outers (GAO and the media). But each has failed - the voters are simply not smart enough to know what's going on, too partisan to vote based on actual performance, and too removed from the failures to "get it"; the players are overly self-centered and inbred; and the outers are in the former, employed by the politicians, and in the latter, too obsessed with sensationalism to make a difference.
What is the legislative equivalent of the Emancipation Proclamation? I was having a conversation about changing the mission in Afghanistan with some friends and the proposed 1% increase in income taxes to cover war costs. I think this is good, but not enough - let's take it further:
As of 2009 the gross (cumulative) American national debt is just under $13 trillion - or just over 90% of the country's entire GDP!! By the end of 2010, it will roughly equal the US GDP - this is horrible! Worse, Congress feels ZERO accountability; and since virtually NONE of their equally guilty predecessors have ever been spanked, and many actually rewarded by being reelected, they are convinced they will never have their feet held to the fire.
What if we changed that - what if we created another proclamation - the Balanceation Proclamation, which mandates a balanced budget? Simply, if the budget exceeds income, Congress must raise income taxes to cover the overage. Every taxpayer/voter must immediately feel the pinch their representatives cost them (the IRS should document your hit in your tax return). This would help the voters more directly tune into and respond to bad behavior, require Congress to proactively defend their actions within their constituencies, and generally make Congress pucker just a little bit.
But what about economic depressions, when only the Feds are in a position to stimulate the economy, and taxes will impede growth? The easy answer might be "tough," but society is responsible for those that can't help themselves, and we can't ignore that. My compromise is that the Proclamation have a clause requiring a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate to secure debt-financing solely to stimulate the economy and avert or mitigate a depression - it cannot be used for any other purpose. Subsequent budgets must set aside funds to pay back the debt as quickly as possible. In the ideal case, this would be funded by the federal surplus emergency fund, but given our current debt, that won't be a reality for many years.
To help the outers, legislators (and political parties) may NOT receive contributions from anyone (individual or organization) that benefits from the spending that caused the deficit. For example, if the budget included new subsidies or credits for oil exploration, or if there was a new war, Exxon or Chevron, and Halliburton, Blackwater, Lockheed or Boeing, etc. would respectively be banned from any political donations for the duration of the benefit plus six years (Senators serve six year terms).
Quid pro quo. If we're punishing Congress for excessive spending, we should also reward them for good behavior. Every year that there is a budget surplus, all Federal employees will receive a bonus of X% (1 or 2%?) of the total surplus, divided equally (same percentage of salary). When they've also retired the gross deficit, the percentage should double. There should be no cap on this - the better they do, the better they do.
Today Congress exhibits the worst kind of partisan behavior, with almost zero focus on the electorate, and excessive focus on self-aggrandized power brokering. This is so because the incentive system is broken - success is getting funded and reelected, not actual public service.
The Balanceation Proclamation would reward good behavior and punish bad. If the country does well, they get paid; Congress will be incented to serve the citizens and fight for programs that help their constituents; but they know that excess spending will directly harm their electorate.
This just might be the way to help them "focus."