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12 Wild Ideas to Back Up Gramm-Rudman

December 29, 1985|GEORGE MAROTTA | George Marotta, a former bureaucrat, is senior research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

History warns us not to rely much on the Gramm-Rudman scheme to reduce the budget deficit to zero over the next six years.

Congress has passed legislation before to achieve similar objectives. Remember how it set a ceiling on the level of the national debt--only to increase the ceiling every time borrowing reached the limit?

A better way would be to proceed with the constitutional amendment to force Congress to balance the budget and also to give power to the President to veto specific "line items" of appropriation bills passed by Congress.

But just in case all else fails, I propose the following additional actions:

(1) The salaries of congressmen and bureaucrats should be frozen until such time as the budget is balanced. Better yet, reduce their salaries by the percentage of deficit over spending. For the last fiscal year, the salary reduction would be 22% (the $212 billion deficit over $965 billion of expenditures.)

(2) Abolish air conditioning in the House and Senate chambers in order to keep Congress out of Washington during the hot, humid months of June, July and August. For the remaining nine months, send congressmen on around-the-world junkets. It would cost us less to do that than to have them continue their "tax-and-spend" activities.

(3) Let's discontinue withholding of taxes from salary and wage checks and go back to the old-fashioned way of paying taxes--in a yearly lump sum. Think of the spending spree we could go on during the year with all that extra money. The Feds would have a fat chance of getting their pound of flesh out of us come April 15.

(4) We will soon reach $1 trillion in our annual budget level. One trillion: that's a one followed by 12 zeros. Let's limit the number of digits in calculators in use in the nation's capital to 12. Then the federal government would not be able to spend more than $999,999,999,999.

(5) Those who want to balance the budget by increasing taxes, as the Mondale-Ferraro ticket proposed in 1984, should be encouraged to voluntarily contribute more than their required tax payments to the federal government. During 1984, 2,500 Americans voluntarily contributed an extra $400,000. We could mount a huge public relations campaign to urge Americans to contribute to the reduction of the budget deficit and the $2 trillion national debt. A special line could be added to tax-form 1040 to remind people that this contribution is tax-deductible. The campaign appealing for funds should be bigger than the one for restoring the Statue of Liberty.

(6) Politicians in Washington frequently exempt themselves from burdens that they impose on the rest of us. For example, we must contribute to Social Security while they have a better pension plan. Congress has recently begun talking about a national lottery to reduce the deficit. If they pass such a law, they should be required to bet $100 a day themselves so that they too can contribute to this wealth redistribution scheme.

(7) We could try to stimulate the economy, and tax receipts, by increasing manufacturing exports. Our major export today is U.S. Treasury debt paper.

(8) Require Americans to pay more fees for services rendered. For example, yacht owners could pay for the Coast Guard, airplane owners for local airports. Similarly, we should have cigarette smokers pay for tobacco farm subsidies and cancer treatment costs. (Americans who smoke spend $51 billion on tobacco products annually and have a 50% higher hospitalization rate than nonsmokers.) A lot of money could be raised by following a suggestion of James Boren, founder of the International Assn. of Professional Bureaucrats--that a $5,000 "access fee" be charged to lobbyists for every contact they have with a lawmaker.

(9) If state governments run a surplus in their budgets, require such funds to be transferred to the federal government to help eliminate deficits.

(10) The bureaucracy is inherently inefficient. A major contributing factor is the payment of government executives in proportion to the numbers of workers under them. Let's turn that incentive around by paying more to those who can get the job done with the fewest workers.

(11) We could save money by contracting out government programs to more efficient private enterprise. For example, turn over first class mail delivery to the Pony Express, CIA covert operations to the Mafia, etc.

The above are just a few of the many schemes that could be developed to really seriously address the federal debt. In fact, a twelfth proposal comes to mind: Why doesn't the government inaugurate a nationwide citizen suggestion program like they have for bureaucrats--you know, a $1,500 award for a suggestion that would save $1,000 in government expenditures.

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