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Gary Franks: Big elephant in room (entitlements) and ending gridlock

Gary Franks: Big elephant in room (entitlements) and ending gridlock

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The last time Congress successfully fulfilled its administrative duties was during my third term in Congress in 1996 for fiscal year (FY) 1997. At that time, all 12 regular appropriation bills to fund the federal government were enacted before the start of the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Since then, we have been relying on continuing resolutions (CR) to fund the government. How can we stop the madness?

Just imagine if you failed to perform your job for 25 years, but still boldly requested a new service agreement every two to six years, per House or Senate reelection. Your boss may be impressed by your chutzpah, but he or she would likely laugh in your face and suggest you admit yourself into some other type of institution other than Congress.

This is a bipartisan problem. The mainstream media should be screaming daily about this, demanding that members of Congress do the basics and informing Americans of their negligence in doing so.

Also, Americans should know that Congress has only 15 cents of every annual dollar to spend on discretionary items once massive spending for our military/national defense is removed. It was not this way when I was in college. We had more than 60 percent of our federal budget for discretionary items and federal government agencies.

What has changed? Our national debt, for one thing. It is out of control. As of today, our debt has ballooned to more than $28 trillion dollars. It first eclipsed $1 trillion in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was president and Joe Biden was a senator. Our national debt is a bipartisan failure.

Of the $4.4 trillion federal budget of 2019, most of the dollars spent went toward mandatory entitlements, which accounted for nearly 62 percent of the whole. These entitlements — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid being the largest — must be paid to those eligible to receive them.

Then we must attend to our massive debt, which grows by the second. This debt accounts for about 8 percent of our entire budget. Defaulting on our debt payments is not an option.

That leaves 30 percent for discretionary spending. Oh, remember, about 15 of that is spent on our national defense. That leaves us with a dime and five pennies, or, if you prefer, three nickels. Not good.

Proposed solutions:

1. Make the funding of the government and all budgetary matters biennial. Congress has more than proven that it cannot do the job on an annual basis. With an additional 12 months, hopefully, it can be accomplished on time via regular order and frequent Open Rules periods on the House floor for rigorous debate.

2. Seriously discuss entitlements, the elephant in the room. They cannot be allowed to eat up most of our yearly budget, despite the obligations to our fellow Americans, who did nothing to deserve ill treatment or a severely diminished quality of life.

3. Admonishment our politicians, the people who deserve it. Today, yet another potential federal government shutdown looms. The high drama over passing a budget, passing spending bills, funding the government and the lifting of the debt ceiling has gone on for far too many years.

Congress and the White House should be able to at least complete the basics of governing smoothly or be forced to do so by risk of a personal penalty or fine.

The three triggers for punishing members of Congress should be related to the three most basic parts of their job — passing a budget, funding the federal government under regular order and managing the debt status of the United States.

We should fine all members of Congress and the president if they are unable to do the basic parts of their jobs.

How hefty should the fine be? How should the fine be levied to ensure fairness? Some members of Congress are multimillionaires and a fine too small would cause them to ignore it. On the other hand, some members are living paycheck to paycheck, so a fine too large would likely cripple them.

The solution is to make it a percentage of their adjusted gross income (AGI) from their most recent federal tax return. This would make it fair. Make the fine equal to 10, 15 or 20 percent of their AGI, payable to a nonprofit like the United Way of America.

The result? Congressional gridlock would end. There would be a rebirth of compromise and bipartisanship. The work in Congress would get done.

Gary Franks is a former U.S. Representative from Connecticut, now a public policy consultant and columnist who is also a visiting professor/adjunct at Hampton University, Georgetown University and the University of Virginia. He has written three books, including his most recent, “With God, for God and for Country,” and co-hosts the “We Speak Frankly” podcast with his son, Gary.

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