As the nation eagerly awaits Washington’s solution to the so-called fiscal cliff, and as the negotiations continue back and forth in both the media and in reality, here are a few thoughts for consideration.
Today it’s the fiscal cliff, but that surely will not be the end of it; next year it will be the fiscal mountain, after that the fiscal black hole, and after that fiscal Armageddon. But the truth is Washington already drove us off the fiscal cliff while no one was looking. A nation that has a $16.3 trillion debt, a debt that is larger than our entire economy, has already driven through the guard rail and is in free fall with the cliff somewhere in the rear view mirror.
I had the honor of serving in Congress. Here’s what I learned – there will be no significant change without structural reforms. That’s the polite way of saying it. The less gentle version is that Congress and this administration are psychologically incapable of getting our fiscal house in order without laws that give them no other alternative.
It appears clear to me that with President Obama having created a brand new entitlement program and having won re-election, and with our hand of cards in the Senate being weaker not stronger, and with Secretary Geithner’s laughable public offering last week, whatever deal is reached is going to contain elements that are detrimental to our economy. Elections have consequences, and the country is going to feel those consequences soon.
But in the negotiations, Republicans certainly should fight to at least get something done that will matter. At present, any reading of the headlines over the past week indicates that Republicans are fighting to protect the rich and cut benefits for seniors. It may be possible to have worse political positioning than that, but I’m not sure how.
Here are a few structural reforms, any one of which would be worth fighting for in this fiscal cliff diving exercise:
• A federal balanced budget amendment. States have balanced budget laws, small businesses have to balance their budgets, and families have to do the same. This is an idea that is supported by virtually every American who does not live in the 202 area code. It’s common sense. It is also laughed at in Washington. When you mention the BBA as a solution, they roll their eyes and write you off as a non-serious person. But the American public is dead serious about it, and they should be.
• Place a cap on discretionary and mandatory federal spending by fixing a limit on it tied to a percentage of GDP. Eighteen percent is a reasonable number in my book, but almost any number would be a victory at this point. Require a super majority vote to over-ride this limit, which would allow for recourse in a time of war or other national emergency. Again, this solution makes far too much sense to be taken seriously in Washington, a sure sign that it’s a good idea. This president is rapidly making a permanently higher level of government spending the new normal.
• A super majority to increase taxes. Make it harder for the politicians in Washington to simply take more from Americans, thereby forcing them to stop growing government. Yes, Washington hates this idea, so it should be pursued with vigor.
• Term Limits. I know, I know, we can’t do that. But we should. And while we are at it, how about forbidding congressmen from lobbying for 5 years after they leave office.
Now that I’ve offended everyone in Washington, a few final thoughts – our debt is strangling us. It seems to be a given that we will once again raise the debt ceiling. So the one thing that all involved agree must happen, may in fact be the single worst thing we can do – unless it is one-time, limited, and accompanied by structural reform to make sure we don’t repeat this nightmare.
Additionally, amidst all the talk of increasing taxes and cutting entitlements, something more important than either of these has been lost – economic growth. America is forever young because America is forever growing, leading the world and showing the way forward. All actions taken by Washington should be seen through this simple prism – will this help grow our economy? If not, maybe we shouldn’t do it.
Bobby Jindal is the governor of Louisiana. This piece originally appeared at POLITICO.