Tea Party Debt Commission

October 4, 2011

Here’s an interesting idea: a Tea Party Debt Commission, organized by Freedom Works:

What is the Tea Party Debt Commission?

. . .

The Commission consists of 12 members, paralleling the structure of the new “deficit reduction super committee” created by Congress as part of the recent debt ceiling compromise.  Committee members are volunteer tea party activists and leaders . . . .  

The Commission is currently touring the country, meeting with concerned citizens in a dozen cities (including Cincinnati this Thursday, RSVP here) to gather ideas and hear input on priorities.  The Commission is also conducting an online survey on priorities and inviting people to write in with their ideas on how to cut spending.

The goal of the effort will be to develop a detailed, serious, grassroots-generated budget plan that:

  • Balances the budget within 10 years without tax hikes;
  • Cuts at least $9 trillion in spending over 10 years;
  • Reduces federal spending to 18 percent of GDP; and
  • Reduces the national debt to under 66 percent of GDP.

To the twelve members of the Tea Party Debt Commission:

First of all, I want to thank all of you for volunteering your time to help your country in this way.  May your efforts be successful, and may the government actually get smaller for once.

In the long term, I think the Tea Party should push for deep structural reforms.  Without such reforms, I think our efforts to cut budgets, shrink the government, and protect liberty will continue to be an uphill battle at best.  I would like to suggest two structural reforms:

First, I think we should repeal the Seventeenth Amendment.  America still understands (and retains), to some extent, the original design of separation of powers and checks and balances horizontally—the power is divided among the three branches—but not vertically:  With the popular election of senators, the states no longer have any meaningful check on the federal government.  The rest of us can (and should) still try to be small-“r”-republican engaged citizens and keep the federal government small as best we can, but we will never be as energetic and effective at it as state governments, rival sovereigns, jealously guarding their own power against federal encroachment.

Second, I think we ought to amend the Constitution to replace the current (insanely complicated) income tax with a flat income tax, taxing income at any level (no income too small) at one rate, with no exemptions and no deductions, except the child tax credit.  I think the amendment should count even the payment of benefits from the government (welfare checks, unemployment benefits, etc.) as “income” for purposes of taxation.  The particular tax rate (50%, 23%, 9%, whatever) would not be enshrined in the Constitution, but under this idea, the fact that it’s a single flat rate, with no deductions, would be.  This by itself would not directly affect spending, but it would end the endless class warfare and selfish voting behavior whereby some citizens can vote to raise the taxes of other citizens at no cost to themselves.  I think this would make for a much healthier body politic generally, but I think it would also specifically give voters a healthy incentive to keep the size of government (or at least taxation) from getting out of hand.

If the first proposal is politically impossible at present, I think the second one alone would represent an enormous improvement.

Apart from deep structural reforms, my top priorities for cutting federal spending would be to abolish three departments:

1 — I think we should abolish the federal Department of Education.  It’s clearly unconstitutional—education is not among Congress’s enumerated powers—and perhaps a relatively broad coalition of conservatives, libertarians, and even liberals can agree that local school boards, or at most state legislatures, can manage education policy much better than Congress.

2 — I think we should abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.  Its constitutional status is more arguable, but I think it’s pretty clearly unconstitutional as well.  We the taxpayers are forced to pay for bureaucrats at the EPA to chip away at our liberty and throw molasses on the gears of the economy; given that we have to cut somewhere, we may as well start with expenditures that do more harm than good.

3 — I think we should abolish the Transportation Security Administration.  Commercial airlines, just through the natural operation of the market, have at least as much incentive to keep their customers safe as some bureaucrat does, but have the incentive to respect their customers’ dignity and comfort as well, which represents an enormous advantage.  We should leave it to the airlines to take care of their own security.

Yours sincerely,
[Roger Chillingworth]

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2 Responses to “Tea Party Debt Commission”

  1. Snoodickle Says:

    So you would tax a person making $10,000 $2,500 a year and a person making $10,000,000 a year $2,500,000? You’re the world’s only middle class plutocrat. I take that back, you and the other tea party maniacs.

  2. Tevyeh Says:

    Re: the 17th Amendment—I agree that the 17th Amendment was a bad move, and is one of the greatest contributors to the ever-growing imbalance in our federal system. Still, its repeal would probably be, as you suggest, politically impossible. (“What? You want to make our country less democratic???”). On the “pick your battles” principle, I’m not going to spend a lot of energy on this one.

    Re: Tax reform—I’d very much like to see our screwy tax code replaced with some sort of “flat tax,” but I’d like it to include a personal exemption in an amount equal to, say, the federal poverty level. Liberals love to cite the principle of “ability to pay” when promoting disproportionate tax rates for high-earners, but I like to point out that once income gets above a subsistence level, “ability to pay” is proportionate to income. I can think of no principled reason why a household making $80k a year should pay a lower marginal rate than a household making $10 million a year.

    Re: EPA—I’m no con law scholar, but as a practical matter I think there are areas in which environmental regulation is best handled at the federal level. The EPA’s history of overreach is not necessarily best dealt with by its abolition, but by more circumscript legislation. Such an approach would probably also be more politically viable than abolition.

    Re: TSA—Ditto, *plus,* consider the economic incentive matrix of a struggling airline. Businesses have strong incentives to cut corners when their economic survival is at risk. Agents of those businesses may have similar incentives (gotta meet that number or I’m out of a job!) even if the business itself is doing fine. In some sectors, this phenomenon entails relatively few externalities—but such is not the case with air transportation.


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