F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
January 9, 2000
Curb Spending with Super Majorities

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

One way to keep Congress from raising taxes so often is to require more than a simple majority for doing so.

Law professors John McGinnis and Michael Rappaport argue that our federal government is "as imperial and imperious as at any time in the nation's history. It spends 17 times the percentage of the nation's income as it did in 1910," they report, "and it takes a greater percentage of citizens' income in taxes than it has in peacetime ever before. The nature of federal spending has been transformed as well," say McGinnis and Rappaport. "Whereas in the early part of this century the budget focused on public goods, like national defense and infrastructure, that benefit everyone, today it is largely composed of transfer payments that enrich some citizens at the expense of others. As the federal government has become ever more a dynamo for the satisfaction of private interests," the two professors observe, "a government designed for the energetic pursuit of the public purpose has been transformed into the special interest state."

In the current issue of Policy Review, published by the Heritage Foundation, McGinnis and Rappaport trace the growth of big government in America and recommend a simple parliamentary change for stifling it. "In the course of the Progressive Era and the New Deal," they lament, "federalism and the separation of powers were so effectively weakened that the federal government came to possess plenary powers of spending and regulation. As the failures of such federal intervention have become more apparent," the two professors observe, "political attention . . . has naturally shifted to recreating an architecture for government that will discourage such excesses in the future."

McGinnis and Rappaport recommend that super majorities be required in Congress for the passage of all fiscal legislation. Given the difficulty of achieving three-fifths or two-thirds approval for tax increases or onerous regulations, the benefits of such a requirement are "potentially very large. Supermajority rules for fiscal matters would increase economic growth by decreasing the burdens the federal government imposes on citizens," McGinnis and Rappaport predict. "They would help restore civic virtue by focusing the government on public interest projects rather than on inherently divisive transfer payments among citizens [and] they would revive federalism more effectively than will piecemeal legislation or judicial decisions."

Super majorities surely wouldn't hurt, but why stop there? McGinnis and Rappaport claim that their proposal is better than any of the others currently being touted, and it may be, but that doesn't mean that an even better idea can't be conceived. Let's launch a national competition for the best mechanism to rein in our free-spending national legislature. To get the ball rolling, here's my own suggestion, Entry Number One in the Curb Congress Contest: Establish an inverse relation between tax hikes and congressional salaries. Whenever our taxes go up, our representatives' remuneration goes down. When our tax burden eases, their pay increases. With built-in motivation like that, our Congressmen might opt to forgo the occasional "revenue enhancement." They might even become avid tax axers. It's an idea, anyway. Have you got a better one?

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