LAGUNA NIGUEL — Steven Beck says he is just another working stiff who is fed up with the federal government spending money it does not have.
He is mad and frustrated with Congress passing budgets year after year that drive the country deeper and deeper into debt.
So he is taking action the California way: He is trying to put an initiative on the ballot.
"Unless there's some external pressure on Congress, they'll continue to act irresponsibly," Beck said. "Congress is not self-regulating as it relates to spending right now."
Beck's idea certainly would exert some pressure.
The initiative would prohibit California's incumbent U.S. senators and representatives from seeking reelection if they voted in favor of a budget that did not reduce the prior year's deficit by at least 20%. The goal would be to have a balanced budget by 2001.
Then, beginning in 2002, reelection would be prohibited if the officeholder voted in favor of a budget containing any deficit, and if less than 0.5% of the budget is allocated to the reduction of outstanding federal debt.
But Beck has a long way to go to get his idea on the ballot.
He has to gather 384,974 signatures of registered voters on his petition by April 13. If successful, the earliest the measure could appear before that state's voters is November, 1994, according to the secretary of state's office.
Beck, a 37-year-old mortgage banker from Laguna Niguel, plans initially to run a quiet campaign utilizing the business contacts he has made in the last 15 years.
"I've got about 200 businessmen in Orange County who have told me they will help me collect signatures," Beck said. "I've actually got an idea that I'm trying to work out with businessmen in Orange County: We'll be printing up petitions and sending them out to people on our Rolodexes."
If, by February, that method is not gaining the necessary signatures, Beck said he may hire a service to circulate petitions.
Although his proposal, if enacted, could lead to radical changes in politics and government, Beck has resisted requests for interviews from the news media.
"I'm just someone who got a little fed up with the way things are going," he said. "I'm a working stiff. Father of three. I work 60 hours a week. . . . I'm not the kind of guy who wants to be out in the public eye."
Beck said he has been talking with a prominent Republican politician whom he would not name who might promote the initiative in California and similar measures in other states.
"I'm trying to get someone else to stand in front of me on this thing," Beck said, noting he has already received crank calls from people opposed to his efforts.
Beck said his idea has been 2 1/2 years in the making.
He has discussed it with Orange County's congressional delegation. He has conferred, he said, with industrialist J. Peter Grace, who headed a national commission during Ronald Reagan's presidency that proposed cutting billions of dollars in government services. He has also been trying to enlist--with no success--the support of United We Stand, the populist organization led by Ross Perot.
But so far, he said, he is on a one-man mission.
"This is no organization," he said. "This came out of my dining room table and discussions I've had."
Beck's initiative is the second he has drafted this year. In July, he circulated a tougher version that would have prohibited reelection of California's U.S. senators and representatives if a budget requiring deficit spending was passed during their terms--even if they voted against it.
Beck said he withdrew that version after U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) told him it would unnecessarily punish elected officials who voted in favor of strict spending limits. "Basically, Dana Rohrabacher talked me out of it," he said.
(A Rohrabacher aide said the congressman did not immediately recall the conversation.)
Although Beck's revised version is less strict, it still could face legal problems if approved by voters.
Mark Petracca, a UC Irvine political science professor and expert on term limits, said Beck's initiative would have difficulty passing constitutional muster.
"It is of questionable federal constitutionality, because it imposes a policy restriction on the legislator, which goes to the heart of (an elected official's right to) deliberative judgment," Petracca said. "Not to mention that you might have some First Amendment issues."
"It's probably unconstitutional by state law as well," Petracca said.
In California, initiatives need not pass constitutionality questions before being placed on the ballot.
Beck said he fully expects his measure would undergo constitutional challenges. And he admits that, if approved, it could take away negotiating power from California's congressional representatives.
The solution is not for him to drop his initiative, he said, but for other states to adopt similar measures. "If we can get California," he said, "I think other states will follow."
All this from a man who says he once opposed term limits because he thought they imposed unfair restrictions on elected officials.
"I think our elected representatives should have latitude in how to split up the pie," Beck said. "The problem we have now is that they aren't even splitting up the pie, they're taking a piece of a pie that isn't even there yet.
"And that's going to affect the lives of my kids and people in future years."