Congress has really legislated itself into a corner. For decades, it has created and expanded wonderful entitlement programs to make our lives better, and incidentally, to ensure the perpetual re-election of its members.
Congress has spared no expense to give us roads and museums named after its illustrious members, subsidized industries, unsustainable entitlements and a bureaucracy that knows no bounds. Our elected representatives have done all this without thinking much about how those benefits would be paid for. Instead, they rely on borrowing and printing money as well as a multitude of other financial gimmicks to make all these benefits appear free to us, the beneficiaries.
But when the economy slumped in 2008, our illustrious leaders found that revenues had dropped so low that the government was unable to keep up with its promises. In the summer of 2011, they found it necessary to raise the debt limit in order to keep the government afloat. With an election looming, they knew they could not cut spending or raise taxes, as this might anger voters. So they kicked the can down the road with legislation that included drastic spending cuts and tax increases that would automatically kick in on Jan. 1, after they were all safely re-elected.
As expected, there was plenty of posturing over who would and wouldn't compromise. The bill that finally passed on New Year's Day raises taxes on a majority of Americans but leaves entitlements and the military alone, for now. We've stepped back from the fiscal cliff, but the debate will continue because Congress still hasn't balanced the budget.
When that debate resumes, you can bet that Social Security and Medicare will be on the table, and citizens who were promised those retirement benefits will be asked to sacrifice for the common good. You can also bet that the generous benefits that Congress has created for itself will remain untouched.
They'll keep their "Cadillac" health plan, their salaries, staff, expense accounts, and their generous pensions, never mind that a large percentage of those in Congress are millionaires.
Those of us in the middle class have watched our incomes go down and our taxes go up, all because the spendthrifts in Washington can't balance the nation's budget. I think we should follow the advice of Warren Buffet and others, that until Congress passes a balanced budget, they don't get paid. And maybe we should means-test their pensions and health plan as well.
Such drastic changes would probably require a Constitutional amendment, which I doubt Congress would consider. No, to get such an amendment we would have to rely on the state legislatures, a number of which have already requested a Constitutional Convention to draft a balanced budget amendment. While they're at it, the delegates could adopt term limits and the line item veto that every recent president has asked for. Maybe we could amend the Constitution to retire the politicians and elect statesmen who care more for their country than their parties.
We have elected our representatives to lead our country in our behalf. The best leadership is by example. Before Congress asks us to give up benefits that they have promised us for decades, they should give up some of the generous benefits they have given themselves. We should all share in the sacrifices.
David Op't Hof is a writer and educator who lives in the Provo area.