With the Fiscal Cliff behind us, it is time to focus our country on fixing the economy. In the last 4 years, in an effort to help the economy, spending has exceeded revenue by $1T each year. Our National Debt at $16T exceeds our annual GDP. Government spending can help economic growth at times, but this government spending has not.
While the President enjoys his victory lap, it is time for the adults to stand up and focus the nation’s mind on our fiscal house. Like any good plan, simplicity of purpose gets a lot accomplished. The President does not want to debate “Raising the Debt Ceiling”. That’s fine, let us not debate it. Instead, debate how to cut spending. Not if we are going to cut spending, but how to cut spending.
The Speaker of the House needs to send a simple message to everyone, and not waiver one inch on his core point:
We Will Not Increase the Debt Ceiling Without Spending Cuts!
From there everything is actually easy. The Speaker should set some simple $ Targets and then ask Congress to develop, through Regular Order, a range of proposals (Crowd Source), they can fashion to meet elements of these targets. Put each proposal on the web so citizens can see them, comment, rank, score, etc. Expose the waste and the debate. Make the fight about getting to the target, rather than the debt ceiling. Redirect the discord towards solving the problem rather than attacking the parties. Have each congressman rank their preferences. Run a bit of data mining on who is for what (In Ops Research the Algorithm is called “Knap Sacking” – which is sort of like Money Ball but for budgets). Build the proper voting coalition. Approve the bill.
The President could waste 2 months saying he will not accept cuts. If this process is run in an inclusive manner, after 2 months the President’s intransigence will have lost some measure of goodwill. Or the President could jump on board and help structure the cuts. Frankly there is enough waste in the system no one will miss the cuts if they hit a particular parties “Key Issue”.
As for targets, I would set two (all on a 10 year basis, evenly distributed):
- $4T of Hard Dollar spending – these are measureable expenditures on real government operations (Buying things, staffing, etc)
- $6T of Soft Dollar spending – these include transfer payments, CPI adjusters, and other calculations that figure into the estimate of debt
I have run this kind of process for a multi billion dollar R&D budget in a large corporation. It is a good way to get opposing groups to focus on a solution. The structure allows the leader to diffuse debate - “You don’t like the cuts, well why don’t you come help with your ideas”. Alternately if someone comes in at the end and throws cold water over it, it is easy to embarrass them “We asked you many times over the last two months to participate and you never did”.
Washington may not work in a way that permits this sort of process, but it should.