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Monday, August 10, 2009
Sauce for the Goose, Part I

A plan to retire inefficient elected officials, modeled after the Cash for Clunkers program.

What's sauce (or good) for the goose is sauce (or good) for the gander.
proverb   what is appropriate in one case is also appropriate in the other case in question (New Oxford American Dictionary, "sauce")

Congress has lately authorized another $2 billion for the predictably popular "cash for clunkers" program, which burned through its first $1 billion in a matter of days in July. The general idea behind "cash for clunkers" is to incentivize the replacement of old, less fuel-efficient vehicles with newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles. This is supposed to be good for the environment and, secondarily, the domestic auto industry, much of which the US government now owns.

The new money would be enough to buy about 100,000 cars outright at $20,000 apiece. Call me cynical, but if each incentive payment of up to $4500, for 20,000 cars or so, actually cost the taxpayer $100,000, that would be on budget. If the program is ten times more efficient, then 200,000 incentives costing the taxpayer $10,000 each would be on budget.

If that sounds wise to you, fine. That makes one of us.

Setting aside concerns such as the program's negative effects on some major charities; the fact that the program essentially requires people who don't purchase cars under the program to fund the purchases of those who do; the inevitable pressure down the road to continue the program, to avoid a nasty downward spike in car sales when the program ends; and some serious concerns some environmentalists apparently have about the program, let's consider the possibilities of similar programs in other areas of life.

I was mulling this over the other morning while driving the 13-year-old foreign car I bought a few years ago for -- coincidentally -- $4500. I began to hatch a plan. Later in the morning, I heard Doug Wright (of "thank heaven for David Rodeback" fame) talking on KSL about the possibility of similar programs for other things, such as "cash for outdated food storage." I listened as much as I could, which wasn't much, but it didn't sound like Doug was thinking ambitiously enough.

So here's my plan. I would need some help, because I'm not a great fund-raiser, and because, unlike Congress, I don't have the power to tax. Are you ready? The program could be called . . .

Cash for Clunker Congressmen. Of course, we'd include senators, too. The idea would be to replace outdated, fiscally inefficient representatives with newer, significantly more efficient models. The cash in this case would go to the elected official being replaced, on the following terms.

The amount of money would be determined according to voting history. Each of the following would add $1,000,000 to the payment to members of Congress (twice that for Senators), up to a total of $5 million in some cases for Congressmen ($10 million for Senators). A representative would also have to meet two of these five qualifications to participate:

  • currently serving a third consecutive term or more,
  • voted for the bank and mortgage bailout (TARP),
  • voted for the stimulus package, a.k.a. porculus,
  • voted for cap-and-trade, and
  • voted for Obamacare.

(I realize that not every elected representative in Washington has had an opportunity to do all of these things yet. I'm allowing for some further legislative activity while the program is set up.)

The replacement representative would have to be a significant improvement, meeting these criteria:

  • He or she must have worked in positions of responsibility outside government for at least 15 years as an adult.
  • There must be no personal history of bankrupcy, foreclosure, or delinquent mortgage payments.
  • There must be no history of tax fraud. (This is the Timothy Geithner Rule.)
  • If there is a record of service in elective office, there must be a history of voting for balanced budgets and tax cuts; and a special committee must judge that any tax increases on the candidate's watch must have been kept as small as reasonably possible, if the candidate supported them -- or the candidate must have attempted to influence a majority (which was otherwise inclined) to minimize the increases.
  • Each candidate must have all personal and immediate family refrigerators and freezers inspected and found free of large sums of undocumented cash. (This is the William Jefferson Rule.)
  • He or she must meet the constitutional requirements for the national office in question, in terms of age, citizenship, and residency. (This is the Arnold Schwarzenegger Rule.)
  • A candidate must live among the people he or she proposes to represent. (Indulge me. We'll call this the Jason Chaffetz Rule.)

The special committee in each district or state which will judge, evaluate, and select each replacement will consist of at least five, but no more than seven, individuals who live in the area to be represented, and who themselves would qualify for the post.

Note that clunkers retired this way would be ineligible for any elected office at any level of government for the rest of their natural lives -- and, just to be safe, for some decades after that. (The latter provision will be known as the Robert Byrd Rule.)

Do the Math

If we paid the maximum payment in every case (which we wouldn't), we could replace 300 members of Congress for a total outlay of $1.5 billion. Double the payments to senators, and we could replace 80 of them for $800 million, again assuming maximum payments. If we had a budget equal to Cash for Clunkers, $3 billion, that would leave $700 million for grossly inefficient administration of the program.

There are some constitutional problems, no doubt. But the US Constitution is a living document, is it not? Doesn't it mean whatever we want it to mean on a given day? In other words, where there's a will, there's a way -- and there would definitely be a will. Just think of the economies; the savings might be trillions of dollars in the first year alone.

There would be one essential difference between Cash for Congressmen and Cash for Clunkers. You'll go to jail if you refuse to pay the taxes which fund Cash for Clunkers (among other things). But contributions to Cash for Congressmen would be completely voluntary.

On these terms, would you contribute?

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