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Fiscal Responsibility                                     page first posted Saturday, December 7, 2011
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        last edited/major change October 17, 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     previous major edit/change September 23, 2012
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    this page last changed July 13, 2014



 

We continue to petition to The White House in support for “Hierarchy of Law”, largely designed to keep UN & similar attempts against US sovereignty, as regarding arms and the Law of the Sea Treaty, from ever allowing the UN or others to dictate to the US, while still allowing the US to adopt positions in line with such.  Do you really want the UN telling us what to do about an invasion at our border, for example?

 

Please help this effort to protect US Sovereignty and The US Constitution.  More, here.  Or, take our word for it and immediately go to The White House site to sign: http://wh.gov/lM0o5  [making use of the WhiteHouse.gov site ensures that nobody need leave any information here, potentially saves us a lot of work, and provides opportunity for visitors to also choose from a variety of other petitions that they may also wish to support...or not].

Let’s get this thing over the 100K signatures-in-30-days threshold for a response…in record time.

If you are familiar with the place “III”, or “3%” holds in the gun rights realm, then it becomes simple: just 3% of the “likes” for National Association for Gun Rights on Facebook would be sufficient.  A similar proportion of NRA “likes” would get the job done as well.  That doesn’t go directly to questions of sovereignty, either; those who dislike “foreign entanglements”; those opposed to the Law of the Sea Treaty; or any number of other specifics, each of which would be covered by the proposal at issue.  [Gun people tend to not be “joiners”, so the potential pool from such resources could be far greater than indicated by “likes” for NRA or NAGR, so the proportion needed might be significantly less…but every signature counts, as does timeliness; please do whatever research you need to make yourself comfortable with signing ASAP and sign].
 
 
The confirmation email for having created a petition includes:

 Until your petition has 150 signatures,  
it will only be available from the following URL and will not be publicly  
viewable on the Open Petitions section of We the People
http://wh.gov/lM0o5 

We need 100,000 signatures by August 21, 2014.
 

 

 
 
 
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Editors Note, October 11, 2013

Somwhere along the line, a part of this has fallen into the ether.  Not enough to irreparably damage what remains, but enough to make for a rather bumpy transition.
 
We apologize, and will be working to make repairs as soon as practical.  Unfortunately, that trying to be "practical" will slow things a bit since the folk in DC are making a bigger and bigger mess of things, requiring us to put most of our energies to "beating the bushes" to get traffic here to see what we propose as a cure for much of what ails us.
 
 
In the interest of trying to save as many people as possible as much time as possible, the [copyrighted] proposal sits in a textbox that is roughly a screen in length in tyical viewing, a little more than one-third of the way down this page.
 
 
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The second major issue with SJ 10 as presented, though arguably not second in significance, was the illusion factor, touched on but not specifically discussed earlier [in the material in "Debt Ceiling" @ usann.us].  What we mean by the illusion factor is that passage and even prompt ratification of SJ 10 would have done little beyond granting an illusion of real change.  The same could be said perhaps of almost any proposal taking similar approaches and intended to deal with the same situation [not true of approaches along the lines of the one provided here as an alternative, for reasons that will become apparent], since there is  -- and has been --  nothing prohibiting Congress from enacting and operating within balanced budgets, of whatever size.  The membership simply lacks the political will to do the right thing, to behave well, to perform the Constitutional obligations they’ve not only volunteered for but worked hard to get.  They have had  -- and continue to have --  so little regard for that primary function [budgeting], and for the people who’ve entrusted them with that duty, that they have gone into elections without budgets in place, repeatedly and as they are about to do again, asking they be rehired for lucrative jobs [the minimum pay for a federal legislator puts them into the top 5% of earners] they’ve already demonstrated they either cannot or will not do…and most of them have been  -- and may again be --  rehired.  No budget has been enacted by Congress during the current Administration: the federal legislature, with little complaint from the Administration, has simply declared all they needed to do as having been "deemed" enacted…no vote necessary...which makes for some very fuzzy bookkeeping and worse.

Such does not bode well for The Republic.

The illusion factor is far more serious than just doing nothing.  In giving an appearance of action, of performance, there is creation of a false sense of accomplishment, a false security which can lead almost assuredly only to greater trouble.  With the false impressions, the need for real action, while still existing, seems lessened, even though it may actually be more necessary; it may seem less pressing, even though it may in fact be more urgent.  Those are dangers of the illusion factor.


Problems with SJ 10 ran from beginning to end, even as they did with the earliest version that we’ve seen and all the forms between, no matter how much tinkering has been done: it has been said that a camel is a horse built by a committee, and SJ 10, in every one of its forms, is a camel and ain’t never gonna be a horse.  While definitions were unclear at best in that most recent form [fully discussed in "Debt Ceiling"], the wording and structure seemed to still determine that the only possible threat to national security must be in the nature of a military conflict: as had been the case for several versions, a new form of super-majority was called for in certain actions ("three-fifths", in addition to the already present instances requiring "two-thirds" or "three-fourths"); there was the now-standard shift of Constitutionally assigned duty, altering the balance and separation of powers; it, like so many before it, seemed to make the national debt at the time of ratification permanent; and, consistent with other versions and the least honorable characteristics of Congress, it had lots of escapes/exceptions and specifically precluded being effective for any Congress which might pass it as an amendment [despite years of warning].  Worst of all, while giving the appearance of value, there was that lack of an "or else" to ensure compliance, thus it had no means for accountability, and would thus likely bring no viable improvement (just the illusion).

Lack of accountability has been the undoing of the budget process.

In short, the proposals called "The Balanced Budget Amendment" have offered nothing to improve the situation and would only make things worse by presenting the illusion of remedy where none existed. These proposals do little if anything that cannot be done without them, leaving really only what has been standard practice1.

And standard practice has not led to balanced budgets!2

A standard practice that compounds the difficulties with this (and other) issue(s) is that of obfuscation, i.e., muddying the waters with a lot of stuff that doesn't belong there, in this case bringing in the idea of government taking a specific portion of GDP [and the hurry to reforms in taxation that were apparently not possible to pass save in light of a looming crisis, and on and on, in the wheeling and dealing that was almost as atrocious as the infamous health care debacle].  Surely, real needs relative to GDP would vary, and just as surely, if a given proportion is specified, even as a "maximum", that proportion is what will be spent: these two realities clearly indicate just one of the reasons this fuzzy-logic [if there is any form of logic at all here] simply should never pass.

One of the arguments for an early version was akin to the current reliance on the buzzwords of "The Balanced Budget Amendment": it was "popular", based on reaction to buzzwords but without knowledge of the specifics…but nobody wanted to ask if the popularity would be the same once seen; a little like having to pass the bill before being allowed to know what’s in it.

Perhaps the most specious argument for passage of any of the forms has been about the pending doom of the out-of-control National Debt.  While the National Debt has long been considered by some (including this writer: that's why the proposal herein was developed, more than 25 years ago) to be without question the single greatest threat to our national security, and that position is becoming more popular, that cannot logically be used as a support argument for any of the forms from Congress that have been commonly termed "The Balanced Budget Amendment".  The debt is real, the Doom is real, but the remedy pretended in SJ 10  -- that latest form of "The Balanced Budget Amendment" --  is not.  Not only have none of the forms of this bad proposal had provision for enforcement, there has been no suggestion on how or when to repay the debt.  In fact, they all seem to  -- and very well may, as noted earlier --  make permanent any indebtedness carried at the time the proposal might become effective [at this point, doing so would be catastrophic, in our opinion].

There has been a whole school of half-truths offered over the years to try to support what has become SJ 10 (and its forerunners), including that failing to pass it was to deny the right of the people to amend the Constitution.  The "denial" referred to would be limited to a decision on the particular wording of a particular amendment that would allegedly  -- but, as we see it and believe we have shown in "Debt Ceiling" only allegedly --  bring greater fiscal responsibility to Congress.

This entire Balanced Budget Ballet of half-truths and innuendo, hints and threats and gamesmanship, is not what the people of the United States need in government, particularly not in attempts to Amend the Constitution.  Facts, responsibility, and accountability, will do nicely.

OK, now that we’ve pretty well seen most of what’s not good about what those in Power were/are trying to get  -- and again they were/are trying to do so in a hurry [which has been characteristic of poor performance, particularly recently: and you can be sure that failing something  -- along the lines of what we suggest --  beforehand, it will be back with even more enthusiasm as taxmaggedon comes closer with the end of the year] despite having had decades in which to perform the same work --  it seems time to address the alternative we provide.


Background

The independent thought process that went into development of this alternative proposal was just that: independent thought.  There was little if any discussion with others, just one mind focused on providing solution to a huge but in some ways relatively simple problem in order to avoid still another and potentially bigger problem: legislative passage of "The Balanced Budget Amendment", or the convening of a Constitutional Convention to enact it (as called for by a plank of the Republican Party Presidential platform at that time).

A Constitutional Convention was seen  -- and is still seen --  by the individual then addressing the problem of governmental fiscal responsibility, as being a potential disaster of unimaginable scale.  Having been unable to obtain a copy of what was then being spoken of as "The Balanced Budget Amendment" [this predates wide use of the internet] and being very skeptical about whatever it might be just on the basis of the title  -- of all the proposals for amending The Constitution, only one had been offered to try to get balanced budgets?  Hardly likely, so use of "The" seemed a bit misleading, bringing concern about what else might not be entirely on the up-and-up --  it was determined to try to figure out what might be the most appropriate solution.  With a blessing and curse that enabled taking the time to do so, the first thing was to assess the situation: what was actually the problem?

As noted above, there is no statutory prohibition against Congress enacting and working within a balanced budget.  Yet Congress had rarely done so in the last century.  Why?  As noted above, even if individual members of Congress had been trying to stuff their own pockets, they would have had to do so in competition with 500 other potential miscreants, and, beyond a reasonably expected modicum of understanding of and adherence to ethical behavior, there is a set of rules for each chamber to guard against the individual members lining their own pockets at the expense of the people.  Inefficient as they may be now, as often disregarded as they are now, these still do exist and could be expected to at least slow down the misbehaviors.  So what was going wrong?

Again, the one thing that seemed to be remarkably consistent in this realm was how little there was by way of personal repercussion for the publicized misbehavior of members of Congress…including the fact that incumbents were almost always re-elected.
 
 
 

Discovery
 

The bottom line is that there were essentially no consequences to those who were behaving irresponsibly.

That had to be the key.  The individuals in Congress would have to be exposed to consequences for what they did that was ultimately bad for the country as a whole, or they would continue to do what they’d been doing; it was working for them.

There was also a relatively constant undercurrent in thought (and in public discourse) about the people in Congress: they were all thought to have gone to Congress as good people, well intentioned, but were soon corrupted by the system.

Thus, the problem appeared to be systemic, and from a lack of will on the part of good and well-intentioned people who’d become members of Congress.  Members of Congress did not act in a fiscally responsible fashion largely because the system permitted  -- even rewarded --  misbehavior.  That realization made creation of an Remedy much easier.


The system largely rewarded fiscal irresponsibility through getting those irresponsible parties elected again and again, with resultant increases in Power through longevity.  One of the earlier attempts to rein in misbehaviors, Gramm-Rudman-Hollings of 1985, coming largely on the heels of the aforementioned party platform plank, clearly demonstrated the need to adhere to Jeffersons’ admonition to "bind them down with the chains of the constitution": under GRH, if allowed to work as intended [or at least, as "sold"], pet projects of porkbarrel-ers that might be in danger of being cut drastically or even terminated, would suffer only as much as even the most necessary and honorable of expenditures by forcing "across-the-board cuts" [a bit like the currently pending "sequestration", which has unfortunately been refined to be even more odious].  It was to the advantage of the irresponsible, so the porkbarrel-ers would often work towards, even ensure, imbalance.  With the anonymity granted by the nameless and faceless "computer" that would then make the cuts, no member of Congress would have to face allegations of specific responsibility (or lack of it), or even risk the animosity of a colleague by sincerely trying to cut any pet project.  There was incentive to im
balance, and no disincentive for (continued) irresponsibility.  And of course, as a statute, that which Congress had done, it could undo…and/or modify…which it did.

The short-comings demonstrated in GRH were fairly clear:

1) it could be readily tampered with (by Congress);

2) it was based on "hard numbers" which were speculative at best;

3) it was self-defeating with respect to controlled balance;

4) it granted anonymity, even respectability, to those who (may have continued to) act irresponsibly;

and

5) it had no disincentives, no provisions for accountability for failure.


So, what was called for was equally clear: something that at least

1) would be tamper-resistant, if not tamper-proof;

2) used formulae which automatically adapted and would be applicable to economic change;

3) had no built-in self-destruct mechanisms;

4) encouraged, if not required, attribution;

and

5) (to some extent, therefore) provided accountability.


Other things desirable, if not necessary, for the integrity of a practical solution, would be provisions to:

a) do something about the national debt,

and,

b) ensure timely action [these last  two things already hinted at above].

 

It would also:

c) permit future borrowing if absolutely necessary (something that received no press then and has been granted little credibility recently), with criteria for determining that necessity;

and

d) be brief enough and simple enough to permit most citizens to examine and understand it.

 

Seeing this progression and the fairly obvious failings was actually most heartening; it strengthened faith in what had been put in the Proposal for a Constitutional Amendment (which by structure prohibits Congressional tampering...provided The Courts behave reasonably well) provided here.  And it really is brief enough to actually readily fit on a single standard page.

 

A Key

To be effective, any proposal to bring about a desired action, in this case to get the Fiscal Responsibility that our elected officials are charged with providing anyway, must address the motivation of the individuals involved.  To ensure compliance, some real and stable3 enforcement measure(s) must be provided as well.

That cannot be stressed too heavily:

ANY PROPOSAL TO BRING ABOUT THE FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY THAT OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS ARE CHARGED WITH PROVIDING MUST ADDRESS THE MOTIVATION OF THE INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED.

At least one proposal not written by a blue-ribbon commission or a committee of members of Congress, meets these requirements.  What we call "A Fiscal Responsibility Amendment"[FRA] would result in balanced budgets, virtually all the time, by changing the motivation of the members of Congress from one of fiscal largess to that of fiscal conservatism; it would allow borrowing in time of need (defined) yet provides for repayment of the National Debt; it would ensure the (politically?) "hard choices" are made by Congress while actually providing "political cover" for the perception of offense by special interest groups of whatever stripe [that Congress would have to make those choices, within limited resources, would tend to defang complaints].

The most important characteristic is in changing the motivation of individual members of Congress.  For a very long time, perhaps since the beginning of the Republic, what has worked has been something of a spoils system.  Members of Congress would curry favor with their constituents by "bringing home the bacon", often doing so by getting support for their pet projects by supporting the pet projects of others, without much regard to costs which would be covered, too often and certainly since the advent of the Federal Reserve, by borrowing; then the porkbarrel-ers would be re-elected, and go through the same motions again.  It worked; everybody was happy; nobody paid.  Eventually, the bill would have to come due but that would be later…and now, "later" has arrived.

The provisions of the proposal here called A Fiscal Responsibility Amendment change the motivation: what used to work, would not work under that Amendment.  Instead, every member of Congress would have personal incentive to behave with greater individual responsibility, and to watch with greater care the behaviors of every other member of Congress; each suddenly becomes personally involved in policing the policies of every member.

 

Response from political figures who have seen this alternative has been markedly limited.  One, then a U.S. Representative and who later went on to other posts, months after it was handed to him with a request for his comment, buried a couple of sentences in pages of campaign rhetoric: the only reference to the specific proposal was that, since people had managed to get around other proposals in the past, somebody might [our emphasis added] be able to foil this as well.  There was no specific objection, no specified fault found, only the suggestion that it might be vulnerable to attack and/or subversion by unprincipled persons.  Lazy and/or unscrupulous individuals and others without conscience  -- and there are some to be found in every walk of life and in every controversy --  would certainly try to "get around" and "foil" this kind of thing. For that we have a Court system.4  And it is just that sort of endeavor that will best show the public the difference between the statesmen and public servants . . . and the politicians, rogues, and ego- and megalo-maniacs.

Not long after completion of the alternative, a copy of what had been the initiating concern, "The Balanced Budget Amendment" [then called H.J.R. 1] was obtained.  The author could hardly believe his eyes in reading it: the progenitor of SJ 10, it had much the same faults in much the same order, as explained (for free, on "Debt Ceiling" page at usann.us).

The author felt he’d done some good work: it would, he hoped, one day actually bring him a personal return; it had taken months of very intense work, and he felt it, at least potentially, held immense value for the society at large.

But, the old story of the unpublished author: without a track record, nobody would take on the publishing.  So the solution mostly sat at his desk, occasionally being brought out for additional work to the surrounding material [mostly in keeping the support material pegged to reasonably current events].  The most interesting part of that was that the proposal itself never seemed to call for adjustment: like the advertisement for a particular sauce, whatever came up was already included, it was already "in there".  Administrations and Congresses, natural disasters, even wars would come and go; and the proposal endured without need for change.

Self-publishing became a stronger potentiality over the years, but the author knew nothing about it and had only marginal personal interest in learning enough about it.  Eventually the publishing company he tried to start was turned over to somebody else who also knew little about such things, and also had little time in which to learn about them, let alone do them.

Along came 2011, with the economy and the federal government facing a potential debacle because of a "Crisis of Confidence" and Congress facing a need to extend its borrowing Power to fund all the things it put into place that must be paid for  -- and for which Congress had not provided --  no further delay in getting this out could be acceptable.  Perhaps more importantly than increasing the debt ceiling, the pending disaster of continuing on a fiscally unsound course was being used as support argument for SJ 10, which would, as shown, likely only make things worse.  An additional Constitutional crisis might be looming in this same realm, as it was being rumored that President Obama might try to take hold of the purse-strings [generally seen as Constitutionally a power of the legislature] to borrow under a presumption of power through the 14th Amendment, should Congress not increase the debt limit.  The failure of the SuperCommittee that came about as part of the deal to raise the debt limit then had the President saying that he would veto any legislative effort to circumvent the automatic cuts [as the date certain approaches, and more and more people understand that roughly half of sequestration is designed to come from an element that is only 20% of expenditures, and as the Presidential campaign gets to fever pitch as it draws to a close, that may be another arena in which a promise made does not come to fruition].



We have stated that the alternative here [FRA] would be a means to get through the current malaise  -- and means to get through the opportunity for mischief --  even as it put an end to fiscal irresponsibility in [federal] government.  Here is how that is achieved.


The "Fiscal Responsibility Amendment" here proposed and explained could have been brought forward in Congress in a measure that authorized an increase in the national debt ceiling, since it was made available on the web; but it was not.  The new ceiling didn't last long, and there is yet another increase in the offing, due not only to our own economy but also due to the failures of this government to better insulate this economy from problems of others [as with demands of international organizations for funding, with that organization to then disburse to other nations…without repayment to us ever coming due].  Ultimately, the actual debt ceiling may, as a number, be of little concern as long as it is at least enough to bridge the government through to the next budget, and the used part of that credit line does not become so large compared to GDP as to be unsupportable.  That would prevent more hurried legislative efforts to take on a [no doubt] very lengthy bill fraught with mischief  --  as in abruptly making myriad changes to the tax code [it should be noted that major tax reform efforts of the past, even with plenty of time, have tended to not work out well: it seems complexity just offers near infinite opportunity for trouble, to the extent that the tax codes are sometimes called "the accountants and attorneys full employment act"].  Raising the national debt ceiling to even more than GDP would, we think, be possible, provided the full credit line was not tapped: as a result of this Fiscal Responsibility Amendment, there would almost assuredly never be need to tap the full line (no matter what "ceiling" was set), let alone increase it again…ever.

The trick would have been in passing, in a single measure, the increase contingent on passage of the proposed Fiscal Responsibility Amendment in Congress and ratification by the StatesThat would have largely paralleled the last call for support for SJ 10, in making any increase in the debt ceiling contingent on passage.  But the calls from Congress for such a contingency stopped at requiring passage through Congress.  As noted earlier, that could lead to nowhere in a hurry, because states might not ratify for at least a few years, as much as the typically permitted 7 years [the most recently ratified amendment took 200 years]…if at all…and the amendment would not take effect for 5 years beyond that.  But Congress didn’t even go for that, opting instead to create a [sham] SuperCommittee that was doomed to fail.

We acknowledge that we are also encouraging swift action on a proposal to amend The Constitution, just as did the proponents of SJ 10: and the proposal we offer has been around for some time.  But that’s where significant similarity ends: these are vastly different approaches, only one of which, in our opinion, has viable substance.  But without ratification, the entire effort is only an exercise in noise…and futility.  Passage and ratification may be a tall order, but the tools and the ability are at hand, and we -- as a society, as an economy, as a country --  are faced with a very real disaster in the making if we do not take immediate action.  [The author and this publisher both are open to other possibilities, but have seen nothing that approached this work, in over 25 years.]

Senate passage of the 2700-page version of the proposal for Health Care Reform unveiled by Harry Reid only days before the vote, and similar shenanigans throughout that exercise, demonstrates [again; such speeds have been attained before, and with lesser technology available] that Congress can, if it chooses, move remarkably swiftly.  Since the proposal in question sits on a single standard 8.5 x 11 page in a normal typeface and font size, and is thoroughly explained here in a few dozen pages, surely Congress can  -- if it chooses to --  pass this in a matter of hours.  But that is not enough: key here is ratification.  Ratification can, with the communications capabilities of the early 21st Century, be enabled literally within hours: the state legislatures would have to act, encouraged by the people of each of the respective states [states also have motivation, through the interdependency of governmental funding; the states need the federal government to be solvent, as is beginning to be heard in newscasts].

Soooooo……

 

PAGE 3


A proposal for amending The Constitution of The United States of America, called A Fiscal Responsibility Amendment
.


FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY AMENDMENT

A) Congress, in providing the budget, shall not exceed, except in time of declared war or national emergency of similar magnitude, the revenues reasonably expected for the budget period. Each budget shall include a minimum repayment of at least interest plus five percent (5%) of any then-current national debt.

Congress shall be accountable for such, in that any planned deficit, or deficit resulting from expenditures which could have and should have been reasonably foreseen, shall result in a forfeiture of a part of the remuneration of the responsible Congress. The forfeiture shall be an amount twice the percentage of their remuneration, as the percentage of the deficit to the budget as a whole.

"Reasonable foresight", and magnitude of a national emergency, declared by the President, shall be determined by the Supreme Court, on a case-by-case basis, whenever such a question is raised.

"Remuneration", as used in this Amendment, shall be the total of any and all wages, salaries, fringe benefits, allowances, pensions, and any and all other considerations of value used as compensation for services rendered.

B) Whenever any individual or group of individuals with a budget responsibility, fails to complete that budget responsibility in a timely fashion as set forth in law at least one (1) year old, that individual or group of individuals shall forfeit all governmental remuneration from that time until the actual completion of those duties. Any person with such duties, who leaves a government position during such an interim, or in the preceding 30 days, for reason(s) other than disability or those scheduled (such as retirement) at least six (6) months earlier, shall also forfeit all government remuneration for three (3) months immediately preceding the completion date set forth in law. No passage of temporary measures or stopgap legislation shall be used to circumvent these intents. Forfeiture is not a suspension of pay to be recovered later, and shall apply to employees of the government at all levels. These provisions shall not apply in cases of individuals or groups who have been delayed in the performance of their specific budget duties by others not having completed their tasks on time, until those so delayed have had fifteen (15) days in which to work on their respective phase(s).

C) The accountability provisions of this Amendment shall be instituted by even increments over ten (10) years, i.e., ten (10) percent of forfeitures apply the first year after ratification, twenty (20) percent the second, etc., until the provisions are fully effective.

D) The President shall have line-item veto over the budget, subject to Congressional over-ride, also on a line-item basis.

 

 

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Now, to a translation from legalese to something resembling the form of English generally spoken in the U.S., explaining, much as was done in "Debt Ceiling" at usann.us regarding SJ 10.



A) Congress, in providing the budget,

This is an acknowledgement that Congress is assigned budgetary responsibility by implication in Article I (Sections 7, 8, 10): too often that seems to be ignored, but it is the Congress, not the President, who holds the purse-strings.



Shall not exceed,

Hardly needs explanation



except

O.K., we admit it; there can be a time when borrowing may be appropriate.  Just please note that we never suggested that was not the case.  While the exception  -- and this is the only "except" provision in the proposal, as opposed to three specified in SJ 10 --  comes early in the sentence, it does so here only as an exercise of art, i.e., language; it just seemed the best construction to get all the elements in reasonable relationship to each other.  Our objection to borrowing is to the pretense of criteria to use in justification, or the lack of criteria at all, and the endless growth of debt.



in time of declared war or national emergency of similar magnitude

This defines the exception, permitting borrowing under specific circumstances as severe as a declared war [war had best be acknowledged to be a severe situation]…without having to go over that same ground a number of times as was done in SJ 10: provides the criteria we found so lacking in SJ 10 as explained in "Debt Ceiling" at usann.us.

 


the revenues reasonably expected for the budget period.

a reasonable guess on income for the same period (typically a year) as the budget: generally locks in balance.  Please note that SJ 10 specifies it will operate on estimates, but does not include the concept of Reason.  Again to California for an example, the State Controller held payment of salaries to legislators because he said the budget that was passed was so poorly done that it could not qualify as really being a budget despite what it might be called; eventually, much of that sort of thing will almost surely have to be fought out in Court.  FRA requires "reasonableness", often the subject in Court decisions.

 



Each budget shall include a minimum repayment of at least interest plus five percent (5%) of the principle of any then-current national debt

Pay-off of national debt; like having a minimum payment on a revolving charge account [and, yes, the national debt has, on occasion, been paid off].  Note that there has apparently never been any viable suggestion provision for repaying the modern [the last 20+ years, SJ 10] debt in any proposal from Congress.   At this writing, with a $16 Trillion debt, the repayment required would be roughly $800 Billion, a staggering amount all by itself and no doubt requiring very large cuts from some if not all things and probably increases in revenue.  On the other hand, it is a number similar to TARP, and to "The Stimulus", and too many other items.  Further, it has been reported that just uncollected taxes amount to around $300 Billion, or 37.5% of the $800 billion needed to cover that one line-item in the budget that has never  -- well, far too rarely --  been included in the budget [when we got one].  There are a number of other places to find significant chunks of money that could help offset the rest [please consider, for example, "1% Aspect" at usann.us…Free (to the reader)].

 




Congress shall be accountable for such,

Noncompliance brings consequences

 



in that any planned deficit, or deficit resulting from expenditures which could have and should have been reasonably foreseen

planned imbalance resulting in debt, or debts from things that should have been obvious, and again this is something that could wind up in Court…but only if the Congress wants to be hanging its dirty laundry out in public.  Time delays thus caused might also create additional pressure on Congress to be very open and "transparent" about what it is doing and why.

 



shall result in a forfeiture of a part of the remuneration of the responsible Congress

Means the people who didn't do their jobs properly should not get and so must give up part of their pay, thereby changing the motivation of Congress from one of "By entertaining each others' Pork Barrel activities (to take money home to the district) we can all get re-elected", to one of "Not only do I have to behave, but I must also ensure that my colleagues behave, or we will all take it in the neck".  This is what is so different from virtually every other proposal we’ve seen: it goes to the individual personal motivation.  This not only then helps Congress stay on track to make the "hard choices", but also grants "political cover" for doing so; the choices have to be made, within limited resources, making the choices much easier to defend; we can demand of government whatever we are willing to pay for, but we have to pay for whatever it is that we get (this is likely to increase "transparency" as well.  This provision could conceivably result in some political gamesmanship that might be similar to the dealings with the health care "trade-offs" (concessions, "blackmail") but with a significant difference: the perpetrator(s) is(are) the victim(s)].  Still, within the limited resources there may be some interesting room.  For example, it has been reported that as much as 20% of $600 Billion [$120 Billion] in annual block grants winds up as waste and fraud.  Hiring 100,000 people at average salaries [$50K, but to be realistic twice that  --$100K --  to cover "overhead": totals $10 Billion] to ferret out and end that waste and fraud could not only take 100,000 people off the unemployment rolls, it could  -- if our arithmetic is correct --  return savings of $5 over and above every $1 spent in that effort, by reducung that fraud and waste by only 50%.

 


The forfeiture shall be an amount twice the percentage of the remuneration, as the percentage of the deficit to the budget as a whole

 

The amount of pay lost is by formula rather than locking in to hard numbers.  The forfeiture is to be twice the proportion (2X, as percent) of their remuneration, as the percentage of the deficit, the personal impact reflecting the degree of professional failure.  While this will certainly meet with objection from current members of Congress, there has to be a severe cost to volunteering and then failing…but there is more to the formula that will ameliorate the initial impact(s), making it much more difficult for members of Congress to resist.

 



"Reasonable foresight" and magnitude of a national emergency,

Terms with some latitude, but to be applied to specific individual situations

 



declared by the President,

specifies Presidential power to declare emergency for budget purposes: the President doesn’t get full control, but can be very much involved in the process [though not, by this, to the extent it has been suggested the current President may want].

 



shall be determined by the Supreme Court

Provides judicial review of actions of President and/or Congress; takes advantage of the original model, of three equal branches of government, in a balancing act of working together even as they fight amongst themselves (hopefully keeping them too busy to interfere unnecessarily with the citizenry).

 



on a case-by-case basis, whenever such a question is raised.

Seems clear: sets the arbiter/referee.



 

"Remuneration", as used in this amendment, shall be the total of all wages, salaries, fringe benefits, allowances, pensions, and all other considerations of value used as compensation for services rendered.

definition of "Remuneration", i.e., what somebody actually gets for their job, not just "nominal pay", let alone "take-home pay" [this may be a way to lead into real health care reform as well, as opposed to the abomination passed by Congress, signed by Obama, and in the most convoluted decision known to this writer, approved as Constitutional by John Roberts].

 



B) Whenever any individual or group of individuals with a budget responsibility

When somebody who is supposed to deal with the budget: the problem is not just about Congress, or any other particular individual or group of individuals, but about the process.  The country needs [and has long needed]  -- and has a right to --  a semblance of order to its fiscal dealings.





fails to complete that responsibility in a timely fashion

 

 

doesn't get the job done




as set forth in law at least one year old

to prevent last-minute juggling of rules, for benefit or abuse

 



that individual or group of individuals

they

 


shall forfeit

give up; lose…you know, like not getting pay if you don’t produce

 



all governmental remuneration from that time until the actual completion of those duties.

everything they would otherwise have received, from when the job was supposed to be completed until the job is done.  Look, they’ve already been paid for the time in which they were supposed to be doing that particular task.  Perhaps they chose to spend the time at the water-cooler (or on-line looking at porn?), but whatever it was they were doing did not result in what they were supposed to get done and they got paid anyway.  There is little reasonable support argument to pay a second time for the same work, for additional time of such people to attend to the same obligation (time which, since they would be occupied with work that was already to have been accomplished, they cannot devote to other/current duty).

 


Any person with such duties, who leaves a government position during such an interim for reason(s) other than disability or retirement(s) scheduled at least six months earlier,

"Copping out", or "ducking out", at the last minute does not release people from the duty





shall forfeit all government remuneration for three (3) months preceding the completion date set forth in law.

 

or from (some) loss of money because of not doing the job.  This provision would even apply to individuals who manage(/arrange?) to get fired: performance is essentially required.  There could be difficulties in trying to "claw back", i.e., recover, monies that had already been disbursed, but the ability of government to withhold, to sue, and to pursue judgments is considerable.

 


No passage of temporary measures or stopgap legislation shall be used to circumvent these intents.

No sidestepping or fudging the rules.




Forfeiture is not a suspension of pay to be recovered later,

Any pay loss is not to be a delay or suspension of pay, but a forfeiture




and shall apply to employees of government at all levels*.

Included to prevent similar irresponsibility at other levels of government, like what has become an almost annual budget debacle in California since even before the federal fiasco(s) of the 1990s, and the budget tomfoolery in a growing and alarming number of states in the following years (with future trouble expected and brewing, the more so as economic malaise drags on and local jurisdictions are going bankrupt)*.




These provisions shall not apply in cases of individuals or groups who have been delayed in the performance of their specific budget duties by others not having completed their tasks on time, until those so delayed have had fifteen (15) days in which to work on their respective phase(s).

Prevents loss(es) to those who've not had the opportunity to work on the task.  No doubt some will complain that 15 days is not sufficient time to deal with their particular budget responsibilities, and in at least some cases that may be true.  But with foreknowledge, those being delayed can always hound those who are creating the delay, even going to the Court of Public Opinion.

 



C) The accountability provisions of this amendment shall be instituted by even increments over ten (10) years, i.e., ten (10) percent of forfeitures apply the first year after ratification, twenty (20) percent the second, etc., until the provisions are fully effective.

This part of the formula for forfeiture is one of the most powerful aspects of the proposal, in preventing any need for desperate measures that could throw unnecessary [and probably counterproductive] shocks into the economy, even as it softens blows to legislators.  At the same time, in softening those blows, legislators lose any opportunity to complain effectively about how much of a hit they are having to take, since the changes are to take place [gently?] over a specified period and in a specified manner.5
 
 

D) The President shall have line-item veto over the budget

This is something sought by Presidents almost since the beginning of the Republic.  It prevents Congress from "forcing" all-or-nothing budgeting on a President,




subject to Congressional over-ride,

even as it retains checks-and-balances of legislative over-ride




also on a line-item basis.

requiring over-ride to be made on the same basis as veto, i.e., line-item by line-item.  While there may be some value to roll call votes as provided in SJ 10, requiring such seems a micro-managing of Congress.  It also lessens Freedom for Congress to make its own rules (as provided in The Constitution) in what appears a poor precedent.  Worse still, it removes opportunity for members of Congress, as well as the body as a whole, to exercise [and tone, making more useful) the "do the right thing" muscles.

                                                                                    =====

*
This provision, of application to employees of government at all levels, may not be necessary to balance federal budgets, but state and local governments have demonstrated considerable difficulty in meeting their own fiscal responsibilities just as has the Federal government.  There is also a question of the interdependence of local and state and federal budgets to consider.

"Reasonable", as used in this proposal, is a term that some might claim is "unconstitutionally vague".  How would those people feel about what was the first clause in earlier versions and is still found within SJ 10, "Prior to each fiscal year"?  Might that not invite trouble as vague, enough so that a single discussion could cover decades and more, since it would have been "prior to each" later "fiscal year"?  The Court is called on frequently to determine degree of "reasonableness" in a wide assortment of issues.  Here, a question of reasonableness replaces economic forecasting of questionable accuracy and even intent.  While any thinking person will occasionally question the competency of the Court in almost any if not every sense [particularly in the health care decision], it is still [despite the health care decision] the repository of "final" "judgement" in this country, with a fair record of (generally) meeting its responsibilities.

Note that the forfeitures required by the proposed formulae are implemented over the course of 10 years.  That is roughly half-again the time the Congress now typically allows for the State legislatures to ratify what it might pass as an Amendment; twice the time Congress allowed itself to bring the budget into balance by means of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings (GRH); and twice the time allotted for the budget deal "cure" of 1990.


Would the proposed forfeitures penalize people?  No.  What might be interpreted as "penalty" is a direct consequence of voluntary action  -- nobody is in Congress having sought to avoid being there --
and such forfeitures could as easily be seen as part of a performance contract.  The provision to phase-in such forfeitures also means that the first-year "loss" to a member of Congress would be so relatively small as to effectively prohibit complaint to the voters. "Enlightened self-interest" may seem to some to be a poor hope, but it is better than nothing and does have some history of achievement.
 
Could Congress just continually raise its pay to offset forfeitures?  Any such move would likely be found unconstitutional by the Court, particularly since the 1992 adoption of the 27th Amendment (authored by James Madison and originally offered as Article the 2nd) which states "No law varying the compensation for the service of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of representatives shall have intervened".  It is possible that a challenge to FRA might be based on this 27th Amendment provision, but, in our opinion, not likely with much success and even if it did, it would only hold until the next general election (maximum of two years out).  Either way, the court of public opinion would almost assuredly rule strongly against any member of Congress making such an effort.

Is an always-balanced budget really desirable?
  Note that unlike the alleged intents of the versions of SJ 10, the requirement here is not an always balanced budget, but one out-of-balance only with extreme consideration of both public and personal effect, as in the smaller economic systems of businesses and households.  Things like wars, recessions, and natural disasters, might be good and reasonable cause to create national debt.  But history, at least recent history, indicates balancing of the budget  -- at least often enough to establish and maintain some kind of real ceiling on what seems to have become a now ever-growing national debt --  must be seen as something worth working toward.  This Fiscal Responsibility Amendment proposal provides for paying off the debt, something skirted around and conspicuous in its absence in SJ 10.


What makes this FRA better than other suggestions? 
Well, comparison with SJ 10 is readily accomplished by readers, with the material already provided (here, and in "Debt Ceiling").


Another approach getting a lot of attention is the Cut/Cap/Balance pledge.  What makes FRA better than C/C/B?

For one thing, FRA is not new; it was not hurriedly put together in response to a current crisis.  Developed when things were not nearly as bad, it has, on review, already essentially withstood the test of time.  It was not designed to fit a particular, immediate situation, but to remedy a structural problem that was driving the country into trouble…trouble that has now become critical and potentially catastrophic.  In the time since it was developed, nothing in the changes of the then-immediate situation have necessitated any changes to this FRA: the structural design would have handled the immediate situations all along the way.

Another thing is that all these calls for spending cuts are simply too abrupt.  Revenue cannot be raised enough to gain sufficient change, but even increasing revenue needs to be on the table…in considered, measured terms.  Thus, there is great value in insisting legislatively on at least a dollar in cuts for every dollar of increase in revenue.  Cuts [along with fraud and waste] are where "the real money" will be found, and certainly need to be addressed; but, again, in measured form with due consideration to trade-offs and spending priorities, rather than in some rabid desperation.  Even as political figures and other talking-heads are noising about potential cuts to things like firefighting and Social Security, a number of people with considerable credentials are suggesting that those kinds of cuts are entirely unnecessary; there may well be over $1 Trillion in cuts that can be readily achieved (over 10 years) with little or no damage [despite the fact that whatever is going through government winds up in somebodys’ pocket].  [One proposal that just might generate such savings is in our "1% Aspect" (please include in your perusal any and all Addendums, et al).


Caps, as put forth in the Cut/Cap/Balance thing, seem to suffer two failings: 1) there can be no enforceability save through amending the Constitution, since Congress can  -- and often does --  change what it has just done8 2) such caps, if they were enforceable, would put an end to the Freedom of the people of this country to have whatever they want of government for which they are willing to pay (as discussed earlier).

As to the Balance part of that proposal, what is generally referred to as "The Balanced Budget Amendment" has already been discussed: it would not meet the criteria specified.  The criteria themselves seem to indicate reliance on old approaches that have proven no success of record.


The FRA proposed largely provides enough rope for Congress to hang itself, should it so choose, even as it encourages the rope be used in block and tackle to gain mechanical advantage to Freedom and Prosperity.
 



 
 
                                                                                    +≠&

 
 

 

1 Pretending there is value in these "feel-good" measures to the extent of incorporating them into the Constitution, in fact, only cheapens, i.e., de-values, the Constitution in its entirety.


2 The allegedly balanced federal budgets near the turn of the millennia were the first in about 30 years, and arguably not really balanced at all, only alleged to be "balanced" through a new exercise in the use of "smoke and mirrors".


3 The problem is that, that which Congress does, it can all too readily un
do, as it has on any number of other occasions, witness the Gramm-Rudman "solution" to balancing the budget; and SJ 10 is rife with opportunity for exceptions, even though a high hurdle is built in. Further, there is still no viable addressing of motivation.

SJ 10, having no "enforcement" provision of its own, relies on statutory solutions; acts of Congress; Laws. Enforcement provisions that are incorporated as part and parcel of any ratified Amendment would, however, not be subject to the same whims of political winds as statutes.


4 The Court system, of course, cannot be effective where the Congress has evaded judicial review, as specifically done in at least one earlier version of what has become SJ 10.


5 For example, if the deficit in the first year in which this proposal was in effect was 20 percent (about what was typical for several years, pre-Obama), members of Congress would forfeit one-tenth of twice that percentage; 4 percent.  On the current (August 2012) salary of about $175,000, the first year forfeiture would be about $7000 [gross; impact in after-tax income would be substantially less], leaving a "mere" $168,000 for the legislators to complain about to constituencies in which an average individual income is reportedly about $50,000.  At full implementation, similar red ink would result in a reduction of a $175,000 salary by 40 percent, a real incentive ($70,000).  Fringe benefits would be reduced in like fashion.

In a second year, some progress on deficit could be expected, perhaps bringing it in to "just" 15 percent.  Twice the 15 would be 30, but only 20% of the forfeiture would apply in that second year so the real forfeiture would be 6%.  Again using current numbers, that forfeiture would then be $10,500, leaving a paltry $164,500.

The third year after ratification, additional improvement might bring deficit spending in to "just" 10%; twice that is 20, only 30% of forfeiture applies, resulting in the same "losses" as the previous year.

This process ensures incentive to reduce deficits, substantially, while permitting a bit of time over which to bring the reductions into play.  This would also keep Congress from making really disastrous reductions [as opposed to controlling if not ending fraud and waste] so swiftly as to create undue hardship in the population or working systems, since the reductions need not all be made at once and to create undue hardship would almost certainly keep the members from being re-elected.

Another benefit in doing this through a carefully orchestrated, planned and open process is in the reduction in the Crisis of Confidence: a plan will have been put in place, and people would have some idea of what to expect.  That can encourage greater productivity and commerce; the economy is stimulated.


6 The members of Congress are politically oriented and would have great difficulty defending a complaint based on the forfeiture numbers as explained (above).  How would it look for an individual making 3.5 times the national average, in a time of at least 8% unemployment [more like 15% in real unemployment/underemployment], to complain about having their pay docked to the tune of some $7000 gross out of $175,000  -- before taxes --  for nonperformance?  Using the formula and estimated improvement in budgeting, a second and third year of continued  -- though lessened --  fiscal difficulty, would still result in annual pay losses of perhaps only 6% of what most people would consider pretty good pay.

To rush headlong into draconian cuts that might have horrific consequences to the economy, on the basis of such losses to personal income, would almost assuredly guarantee defeat at the polls at the next outing [and perhaps more than a few recalls in The Senate].


7 A ceiling of sorts was addressed in even the earliest version we’ve seen, but it was severely hedged, i.e., it could be changed: the greater complexity of SJ 10 seems less inclined to set a debt limit, and more inclined to provide for changes…and still does nothing about curing the size of current debt.  One of the biggest problems is what happens if Congress finds itself unable to make "necessary changes"?  Again, there seems to be no enforcement procedure, nothing to guarantee accountability.


8 It is important to acknowledge that Congress un-doing what it has done is not necessarily a bad thing.  It is an important feature, allowing flexibility and correction of mis-step.  Unfortunately, too often it is very difficult to tell which move is/was the wrong one.  Another problem with the caps is that the sitting Congress cannot legally so bind the next Congress; that can only be done through an amendment to The Constitution.

+≠&

 
 
 
FRA UPDATE, May 6, 2013

 
 
When this was designed, it worked, well.  It continued to do so, despite all the uproars and wars and
natural disasters and economic shifts, for 20 years and more.

Then came the last several years of astronomical expansion of the national debt.  We had already been long singing what is now a popular chorus, that the debt may well be the greatest threat to our national security, but nobody was listening then and, in the words of an old lyric, largely, "they’re not listening still".

We believe the formulae provided in the proposal are still viable.  But the stomach for the kind of shift that would be required to meet a 5% principal payment of $17 Trillion is just not the same as meeting 5% of half that.

To avoid the draconian [a term that would not have been appropriate characterization of change required earlier] change that would now be required, we reviewed what might be done to accommodate without destroying the standards set in the proposal, and came up with the following.

"The repayment of principal on the national debt in the first 5 years after ratification shall be not less than 3%, and in the following 5 years not less than 4%, of the then-current national debt."

This would bring the amount of repayment down initially to much like what it would have been had the proposal been adopted and followed at any time in that first 20 or so years [particularly noting changes in interest rates].  That then brings a less abrupt change to some semblance of sanity than would come with the formulae designed for a significantly smaller debt load.  Insertion of the change shown in that single 36-word sentence would thus also defeat opposition that might come from an argument that it was designed for an earlier time  -- as indeed it was --  while actually strengthening supporting arguments about operating from formulae that are not subject to whims of Congress, Administrations, or economic shifts.

We have refrained from changing the proposal outright, in part, admittedly, to continue our record of not having found it necessary to do so, as opposed to the [known] alternatives which have been adjusted here and tweaked there virtually every year [proving their then-current deficiencies, and demonstrating the likelihood of more].  We also believe it would be perhaps "better" to go with the original and just tighten the belt a bit more initially, to both get a stronger start and for the sake of penance: we did this to ourselves, we must take the medicine.  On the other hand, we are not married to the verbiage nearly as much as to the concept, and accommodation to the abrupt change in circumstance  -- provided the accommodation serves accomplishment of the goal rather than just becoming a delaying/defusing tactic --  may not only be not a bad idea but a good one. In any event, we leave it to the members of Congress to deliberate and choose, through their own best lights largely guided by the noise from constituents.
 

To accommodate this potential change most reasonably, we recommend changing the first paragraph from the current 49 words --

A) Congress, in providing the budget, shall not exceed, except in time of declared war or national emergency of similar magnitude, the revenues reasonably expected for the budget period.  Each budget shall include a minimum repayment of at least interest plus five percent (5%) of any then-current national debt.
 --  to "
 A) Congress, in providing the budget, shall not exceed, except in time of declared war or national emergency of similar magnitude, the revenues reasonably expected for the budget period.  Each budget shall include a minimum repayment of at least interest plus: in each of the first five years after ratification 3%, in each of the following 5 years 4%, and in each succeeding year at least five percent (5%), of any then-current national debt."
 
This is a
n increase of 25 words rather than the 36 in the stand-alone.  It also eliminates a question of where to insert the stand-alone and how to transition it.  It is an accommodation to a reasonably unforeseen circumstance, the dramatic [some might argue unreasonable, even foolish, irresponsible] expansion in national debt, rather than an exception [likely strengthening a case for additional exceptions].  As such, it invites no further mischief.
 

Remarkably, this lengthening of the proposal by a couple of lines, still brings the whole thing in on a single page using 12 point font and 1-inch margins.
 
 

+≠&

.


The
(general) PLAN

Exercise integrity, and encourage others to do so: Support each other, and encourage others to do so;

Educate ourselves, and encourage others to do so; Use the term Usann, and encourage others to do so;

Resist tyranny, and encourage others to do so; Exercise authority over officials, and encourage others to do so;

And take the country back, one day, one moment, at a time.


Our goal is to follow the above plan in our lives and our business, thus being a part of returning our country, The United States of America, to the Republic it was envisioned and designed to be and The Great Experiment -- the Rule of Law -- brought to the world by the Founding Fathers.

We ask readers -- and others -- consider doing likewise.

+≠&

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