Read the following post that’s currently circulating on Facebook and see if you agree.
“Warren Buffett, in a recent interview with CNBC, offers one of the best quotes about the debt ceiling: “I could end the deficit in 5 minutes,” he told CNBC. “You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election. The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971 — before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven took one year or less to become the law of the land — all because of public pressure. Warren Buffett is asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of 20 people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise. In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one idea that really should be passed around. Congressional Reform Act of 2013 1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they’re out of office. 2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose. 3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do. 4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%. 5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people. 6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people. 7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 12/1/13. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women. Congress made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work. If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message. Don’t you think it’s time? THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS! If you agree, pass it on. If not, delete.”
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Make them behave! And, if they don’t, we’ll tar ‘em, skin ‘em, and roast ‘em alive!
Nothing feels better than righteous indignation and Congress, which has led us into a government shutdown and may lead us into default, has certainly earned our indignation.
But, one question. Did you even notice the condition on which that indignation is premised? While wallowing in the wrath we would take on the rascals in Congress, did you recall that it was premised on the notion that the federal deficit should never exceed 3 percent of GDP. And, if you did recall that fact, did you actually do the math to understand what it would mean? Would it have made any difference if the figure had been 2 percent or 4 percent of GDP? Probably not.
That’s too bad because those who do the math and know the fate of European countries that adopted budgetary austerity policies in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown, also know that a “3 percent of GDP” cap on the federal deficit would be economically disastrous. Three percent of United States GDP is roughly $500 billion dollars a year. So, for Congress to have avoided the Facebook post’s recommended sanctions that come with exceeding that amount in deficit spending, the federal government would have had to cut spending and/or raise taxes by about $800 billion dollars for each of the past four years. That’s as much as the cuts in Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s most recent proposed budget, which is often and accurately described as draconian. Had that much money been taken out of the economy during the last four years, we would still be mired in double-digit unemployment and GDP levels below those that existed before the crisis. That was the fate of countries that followed this type of policy in the wake of the crash.
This is all quite ironic because Republicans in Congress are at present among those triggering the most revulsion, which means that many of those who repost the Facebook message will be liberals. In fact, the Facebook friend from whom I received the post is a county Democratic party official. He, like most people who are reposting the Facebook message probably have no idea that doing so is tantamount to demanding that Congress enact tRyan’s budget and its extreme cuts to infrastructure, education, health care, social safety net programs and the environment.
But, the real damage comes later — for instance, next year during congressional elections when right-wing candidates run on the 3 percent deficit cap and, to voters who reposted the Facebook message, they won’t sound so unreasonable because emotionally and intellectually those voters will associate the 3 percent cap with the righteous indignation they feel today. If you’ve ever wondered how seeming aberrations such as the tea party arise, this is case study in how well-conceived political tactics can hijack beliefs and passions and, in some cases, turn them 180 degrees.
— Sean O’Leary can be contacted at email@example.com