by Whitney Pitcher
Every year at this time, many of us make resolutions for the upcoming new year. We resolve to lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more, spend money more wisely, spend more time with our families etc. The common thread in all of these resolutions is that we are resolving to reform something about ourselves personally. Meanwhile,when government sets out to reform something, it is very rarely a resolution to change something about themselves as elected officials. More often than not, their reforms are aimed about changing something about us “ordinary folks”, our relationship to government, or how government spends our money. The word–reform–is generally just a euphemism for government expanding, liberty shrinking legislation. We hear of health reform, immigration reform, tax reform, entitlement reform and all kinds of other reforms, all aimed at changing us as individuals, as taxpayers, and/or as business owners. In essence, these reforms are all variations of “constituent reform”. To be sure, much of this reform is needed, but most of the time, this is largely because of government mismanagement, (e.g. entitlement reform). Very rarely will government officials resolve to reform anything about themselves as a matter of policy or legislation.
We only need to look to the news of this past week to see the lack of personal reform and the overwhelming projection of “constituent reform” in our governmental officials. Senator Diane Feinstein proposed a gun control bill that would ban many types of guns, including handguns while she works in a building protected by armed security. In other words, her legislation would enable her to remain protected while us “ordinary folks” would be limited in our methods of protection. In the midst of “fiscal cliff” discussions where President Obama urged Congress to act like “ordinary folks” who do their jobs and meet deadlines, he issued an executive order that gave pay increases to Vice President Biden, Congress, and some federal workers. “Ordinary folks” don’t give or receive even small pay increases during times tough fiscal times, but that was what President Obama did for politicians who are not doing their jobs. (Ironically, the details of this pay raise are found on a government website–www.opm.gov–OPM–other people’s money) This kind of behavior is commonplace is government. Politicians create a different set of rules for themselves than they do for “ordinary folks”–be it in the right bear arms to protect one’s family or in increases in their salaries while simultaneously discussing confiscating more money from our paychecks.
Very rarely are there politicians who seek to engage in political reform and promote a form of populism that views government largess and political privilege as the villain rather than business or the free market. Sarah Palin took a pay cut as mayor, rejected a pay raise as governor, passed ethics reform aimed at the legislature, executive branch and lobbying among a myriad of other policy reforms and personal populist decisions. Retiring Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson was one of the first sponsors of the STOCK Act in 2006 aimed at making insider trading by Congress illegal, years before the practice was put under the spotlight by writer Peter Schweizer. Senator Rand Paul once returned half a million dollars in unspent funds (taxpayer money) budgeted for his office. These are a few examples and are all important steps indicating a broader vision about government’s relationship to its constituents.
As part of that larger vision of government, I’d like to propose a few new year’s resolutions for our government. First, reform yourselves. Don’t require your constituents to live under regulations that you are exempt from or give yourselves special privileges that your constituents cannot access. Do your “fair share” (as much as I loathe that phrase) by refusing to accept a pay increase while inflation, tax increases, and regulation shrink the incomes of your constituents. Don’t propose legislation without competitive bidding that only provides an avenue for cronyism, waste, and bloated contracts. Stop giving subsidies, loans, grants, and special deals to your political donors. These are the kinds of political practice that have led to 5 of the 10 wealthiest counties being in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Government can also take a cue from the resolutions set by us “ordinary folks”–lose weight. Our government is fiscally obese. Most proposed spending cuts are not actual cuts. When legislators propose slowing government spending rather than legitimately cutting it, it’s essentially the same as if “ordinary folk” resolved to gain less weight than last year, rather than resolving to actually losing weight. So, politicians, cut the crap, cut the fat, and sing Auld Lang Syne, just like us “ordinary folk” resolving to reform yourselves, not project reform on your constituents.