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Why We Need A New Constitution: Part 19 of 21

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THE END OF THE LINE

The most visible example of our constitutional inadequacy is the burgeoning National Debt, which threatens to obliterate our economy either by "bang" (crash) or "whimper" (foreign ownership). As The Wall Street Journal reported, since 1980

[A]ll debt outstanding governmental, business, and individual has swelled to nearly $11 trillion from less than $4 trillion. Today's total close to $43,000 for each man, woman, and child in the U.S. exceeds 1.9 times the gross national product, up from 1.7 in the mid 1980s. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, debt ranged only from 1.2 to 1.4 times GNP. Just since 1989, the debt load has mounted nearly $2 trillion. . . .

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The federal budget 'is out of control' says Charles B. Reeder, an economic consultant in Wilmington, Del., who isn't given to hyperbole. The deficits 'will be a drag on the economy,' he predicts, since 'they preclude the possibility of either tax cuts to stimulate demand or new spending programs to deal with serious social and economic programs.'

H. Erich Henemann, economist of Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co., worries especially about the deficit's impact on saving and investment. 'The more Washington borrows, the lower national saving will be,' he warns. 'Low saving equals low investment. In turn, low investment will lead to slow growth and a decline in the U.S. standard of living relative to other nations, particularly Japan and Germany.' . . .

As recently as 1984, state and local governments, taken as a whole, sported an operating-budget surplus of about $20 billion. Last year, in sorry contrast, they sustained a record operating deficit of $34 billion, and many forecasters anticipate still deeper state and local deficits in the year ahead.

To help make up the shortfall, 20 to 30 states plan 'major' tax increases in the year ahead, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis. This would tend to worsen the federal deficit, since state and local taxes are largely deductible from federal taxes. The upshot will be 'leaner and meaner not gentler and kinder times,' forecasts Laurence B. Rossbach Jr., and analyst at Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co. [1]

This crisis has been brewing for three decades. In fact, 32 States had petitioned Congress for a Constitutional Convention for a Balanced Budget Amendment by 1987. As the Grace Commission reported in 1984, the problem of inefficiency in Government required "immediate attention. [Opportunities to make Government more efficient] are dependent on institutional changes to bring about long-term improvement. If the problems identified are left uncorrected, they can only deteriorate and result in 'opportunities lost,' leading to the loss of national vitality and the erosion of freedoms."[2]

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But in the face of this pressing concern, all Congress could manage to do was pass the ineffectual Gramm-Rudman bill, the most significant portion of which was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court [3], and thus eviscerated (the Separation of Powers Principle in action). Deprived of even this abortive band-aid remedy, deficits swelled to new heights: a record $360 billion in 1992 alone. Freed of any form of structural restraint, Congress was free to be collectively irresponsible, an irresponsibility which "is most evident when members express concern over mounting deficits and growth of government but insist on funding programs that benefit their individual constituencies . . . ."[4] Vivid evidence of this irresponsibility was displayed on the floor of the House of Representatives on October 3, 1991, as Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) argued vainly for fiscal restraint:

In this bill we have a ton of pork barrel projects, and I am going to have other amendments to cut them out. The fact of the matter is that I know as I stand here, I say to my colleagues, that I do not have a chance of a snowball in Hades of getting any of these amendments passed, and that is why I get so frustrated. Members know it is pork, and I know it is pork, but nobody is doing anything about it. The reason that happens is that so many of us in this body, and in the other body, continue to ask for special pork barrel projects. One subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee in this body had 385 Members ask for over 3,000 special projects. Where is it going to end?

As I said before, I know that I am now jousting with windmills, and I know I am just a voice in the wilderness here, but I am telling the Members that we had better do something about it. We are mortgaging the future of our kinds, and we are headed for financial disaster at some point in the future. I do not know where that is, but it is going to happen. We cannot continue to spend $300 billion, $400 billion, or $500 billion more per year than we take in and incur the kind of debt we have, a $4 trillion national debt, without some kind of disaster occurring in the future. And we are all going to be responsible. [5]

Individually responsible, perhaps, but collectively irresponsible. The vote was 252 to 162 in favor of the Appropriations once again, a failure to act in the face of a necessity for action, but a mere detail in a tragic Shakespearian determinism parading before our eyes the working-out of this self-defeating Clockwork Orange known as the United States Government.

This failure of our Government to act in the face of a necessity for action engenders a feeling of helplessness within the populace even more incredibly, some people simply become bored with these important issues. How many times can a person request action on an issue and get no result without either giving up or losing interest? As The New York Times reported,

This time last year the budget was front page news. . . . On Monday, Mr. Darman is to release this year's mid-year review. It will show a deficit of perhaps $315 billion or $320 billion for the next fiscal year, nearly $100 billion above the figure last July, $35 billion or $40 billion above what was forecast as recently as February and far and way the biggest deficit ever. But nobody seems to care. . . .

The economists and political scientists who filled the nation's Op-Ed pages last year with doomsday columns about dangers of the deficit have turned their attention elsewhere. . . .[6]

"Turned their attention elsewhere." Not surprising. This effect was known to De Tocqueville over a century ago, who described in his book Democracy in America that

Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day, and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will. . . . The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which government is the shepherd. [7]

Even Harvard professors are reduced by this phenomenon to the role of "timid" animals. The Times article continued:

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Benjamin M. Friedman, a professor of political economy at Harvard, said he believed just as strongly as he did last year, when he was writing regularly about the subject, that the deficit was 'ruining the country.' But he said he felt like someone who had tried unsuccessfully to persuade an alcoholic friend to stop drinking. 'You've done absolutely everything you can do, and now it's not at all clear it will do any good to continue harping.' . . .

Now, the President's budget director puts forth the biggest deficit in history. How can the Democrats be silent?. . .

They signed the deal that put off further debate on the budget until after the 1992 election. . . . They forfeited their right to criticize President with a stratospheric popularity rating on the one issue on which he seems vulnerable. [8]

Indeed, the political parties, accomplices in the budgetary debacle, colluded on a deal to prevent discussion of the critical issue before elections. According to Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder,

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Barry Krusch is president of Intelligent Communities, Inc., sponsors of The Intelligent Community Initiative. He is also author of 2 books, The 21st Century Constitution and Would The Real First Amendment Please Stand Up?

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